Wildlife can stink up the place — and keep it clean, too

When most people hear about wildlife in San Francisco, they usually think of the Castro on Halloween or one of the annual summer street fairs.

But it doesn’t get much wilder than when nature rears its complex head and decides to take up residence in and around your backyard. That’s when you start wishing that Steve Irwin made house calls.

Animal control officials are quick to note that there is wildlife in every neighborhood in San Francisco. They are just as quick to add that there’s not much they can do when it sets up shop on your property. And to that I can only say — now you tell me.

For I am the recipient of almost daily visits by a rather active skunk, that first showed up in his (OK, it could be a she, but for obvious reasons, I’ve named it Pepe LePew) full glory about a month ago. Strangely, Pepe began rooting around in the yard in the daytime — skunks are nocturnal — which plays a part in this story, but at the time, I just thought it would make it that much more convenient for The City’s animal control officers to remove him.

If only. As it turns out, animal control officers will only come out to remove wildlife if it’s sick or injured — and it would be hard to tell for most urban dwellers whether the raptor that makes a nest in their favored tree had a gimpy wing. So I was told I should try to “deter’’ Pepe from returning by using a series of ammonia cans with towels drenched around the yard. Oh, and maybe I should consider installing Kleig lights to blind my new friend and essentially make him think the sun never sets in the Sunset.

“Basically, you want your problem to become someone else’s problem because skunks have a range of about two miles,’’ said Bruce, the animal control officer who took my call. “You just want to give him lots of reasons not to come back.’’

Any other possibilities? He suggested I call Jamie Ray, “the wildlife expert.’’

So I did, and I learned more about skunks in about five minutes than I ever knew or thought I would want to know. And I learned a fair amount about Jamie as well.

She is the director of the San Francisco Rescued Orphan Mammal Program (www.sfromp.org), which handles injured or orphaned wildlife and also started The City’s first-ever wildlife hospital for mammals. Ray is licensed with the state Department of Fish and Game and has been doing the rescue work since 2001. All told, The City’s wildlife rescue hotline fields 2,000 calls per year.

Ray told me that if I was really having a problem with the skunk, I could probably hire a trapper and have it “removed.’’ But I don’t want Pepe to be killed, I just want him to move on to a more suitable locale — as in not in my backyard. She seemed relieved.

“The truth is we should be bowing to skunks, because along with raccoons, opossums and other mammals, they are the primary practitioners of nontoxic rodent control,’’ she said. “Skunks are part of the healthy ecosystem where the larger animals eat the smaller ones.’’

Skunks mate between mid-February and mid-March, but are generally solitary and nomadic, giving me hope that my striped pal is all alone in his burrow. Ray said skunks are incredibly shy and nonconfrontational and will only unleash their powerful spray defense when attacked.

But when I told her about Pepe’s behavior, Ray became alarmed. Not only was he coming out in the daytime, he was sort of circling upright along the walls and fences. That might mean his eyes are filled with fluid because he has canine distemper, rendering him unable to easily find his burrowing hole.

“If this little guy is going back against the fence and wall in the daytime, he’s probably sick and I want him to come to my hospital,’’ shetold me.

Great. Fantastic. A solution has been found.

All I have to do is trap him in a box and deliver him to the proper authorities — piece of cake. I think there’s probably a reason you never saw me on “Mutual of Omaha’s Wild Kingdom.’’

“It’s easy, really,’’ she told me. “You can do it.’’

You should all be highly skeptical of my chances, but I promised Ray I’d give it a try. She actually made me feel sorry about poor Pepe and his possible condition.

But I’m not going to bow to him. If this actually works out, the best he’ll get from me is a goodbye wave — from far, far away.

Ken Garcia’s column appears Tuesdays, Thursdays and weekends in The Examiner. E-mail him at kgarcia@examiner.com or call him at (415) 359-2663.

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