A rare patient and squirrel siblings join the hospital

September 23, 2021

An eastern spotted skunk and two grey squirrels were among the forty-one animals admitted to the von Arx Wildlife Hospital at the Conservancy of Southwest Florida this past week. Other admissions include a ruddy turnstone, a barred owl, a loggerhead shrike, a black racer and a big brown bat.

Rare Eastern Spotted Skunk Patient

The eastern spotted skunk was captured at a local high school when it attempted to crawl into a parked car after emerging from the underside of a Sheriff’s patrol car parked nearby. The skunk was dull, but responsive when examined at the wildlife hospital. An ophthalmic exam revealed the skunk did not have a normal response to visual stimulus indicating possible neurological trauma. 

The skunk was placed in a quiet, dark isolation room to ensure he wouldn’t feel threatened and spray inside the hospital. Later that evening, the skunk immediately ate the diet staff placed in front of him. The following morning when staff checked on the skunk they found his enclosure was a mess indicating the skunk was very active overnight. The skunk had a cardboard box ‘den’ to use for cover and this allowed for minimal handling. Staff blocked the entrance to the box ‘den’ with a bunched up towel while they cleaned his enclosure. Once the recovery space was cleaned and reset, the towel was removed allowing the skunk free range of his enclosure. 

Eastern spotted skunk

Each day the skunk was more alert, curious, and always very aware of activity around his enclosure but never sprayed. A fecal analysis determined the skunk had a high load of an internal parasite requiring a course of anti-parasitic medication. Several days after admission the skunk was cleared for release. Staff found a suitable release habitat where other eastern spotted skunks have been observed since the actual location where the skunk first climbed into the patrol car was unknown. Visit the Conservancy’s Facebook page and Instagram to view short videos of the skunk recovering at the hospital and the skunk’s release back into the wild.

Eastern spotted skunks are a rare admission to the von Arx Wildlife Hospital (typically less than two a year). The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) has eastern spotted skunks listed as a Species of Greatest Conservation Need in Florida’s State Wildlife Action Plan. Biologists with FWC are conducting a skunk observation project to learn more about the distribution of skunks in Florida. There is a tab on the FWC website for the public to easily report skunk sightings. Information will help FWC promote conservation of the eastern spotted skunk across their distribution.

Baby Squirrel Siblings

The two nestling grey squirrels are siblings but were found and brought to the von Arx Wildlife Hospital one day apart. The first squirrel arrived cold, weak and thin. The baby exhibited signs of being in pain. Massive trauma from falling from a tree and hitting the ground can be quite significant for young animals.

Along with the pain, flies had laid eggs on the baby. Removing fly eggs is a straightforward process compared to removing live maggots, so the baby was fortunate in that respect. Staff administered pain medication and placed the orphan in a warmed animal intensive care unit to rest. Later the orphan squirrel was assessed to ensure the pain medication yielded the desired effect, which it had. Hospital staff offered oral electrolytes that the squirrel eagerly nursed.

The following afternoon the squirrel’s sibling was admitted in similar condition. The orphan was thin, weak, wet from an afternoon rain shower and had an increased respiratory effort. A similar treatment plan was begun including pain medication and electrolytes. The squirrel also required an antibiotic due to respiratory issues. Until the nestling is stronger, she remains separated from her sibling. Due to their young age, the squirrels require multiple feedings throughout the day and night.

Baby grey squirrel

Many species of wild animals, including raccoons, squirrels, opossums and rabbits, have multiple babies per litter. If one orphan baby is found, there is a high likelihood other babies are nearby and in need of assistance. If you find an injured or orphaned nestling animal, be sure to search nearby in case any other orphans are also in distress. It is very common for a member of the public to bring in an orphaned animal only to go home and find siblings in need of assistance as well.

If you encounter an animal you believe is in need of help and are unsure of how to help, call the staff at the von Arx Wildlife Hospital for guidance. Staff can provide information and determine the appropriate course of action.

Recent Releases

Two mottled ducks, a yellow-bellied slider, two laughing gulls, two mourning doves, a royal tern, two eastern cottontails, a northern mockingbird, a gopher tortoise, an anhinga, a big brown bat and a red-eyed vireo were released this past week. 

Opportunities to Help

Please visit our website at www.conservancy.org to learn about opportunities to get involved. If you are unable to give of your time as a volunteer, become a member or donate. Your support will help the Conservancy continue to protect Southwest Florida’s water, land, wildlife and future. 

Joanna Fitzgerald is director of the von Arx Wildlife Hospital at the Conservancy of Southwest Florida, 1495 Smith Preserve Way, Naples, Florida 34102. Call 239-262-2273 or see conservancy.org.