Are you familiar with the phrase? “Skunking about”? Or whether, indeed, it is a phrase?
Well, during the first weeks of the expedition skunks certainly where about, although in general they were only noted in their passing. That is passing by, rather than passing away (alas, on several occasions we did witness their squished striped remains pancaked to the road). Because, of course, what is so delightfully reassuring about a skunk, is that they are more often smelt than seen.
As we ran the roads and gravel tracks between Punta Arenas, Puerto Natales and El Calafate, nearly every day our noses would begin to tremor in almost perfect harmony as the delightfully fruity aroma of a skunk would curl its way inside. Even my nose (not celebrated for its olfactory prowess) would tingle with the heady scent of,
“Instant coffee, a twist of citrus, with a piquant of damp earth”.
Then, one day amongst the low scrub and grasses near the road-side, amidst thick tongues of wafting perfume, we caught a glimpse. The dandy himself; in full pin-stripe suit and bushy tail!
And what was he doing..?
Well of course, “Skunking about”! Snuffling under bushes, crunching on beetles, peering down holes for a small tasty rodent snack and savouring a berry or two. This most cosmopolitan of diets has allowed him and his kin to thrive amongst the Patagonia steppe, with individual home ranges between 10 and 16 hectares.
It appears the only threats to his peregrinations is his soft chocolate and white striped coat which between 1960 and 1980 was sort after for export. In theory, this should have ceased, due to the protection of the species from export in Chile and Argentina in 1983. We did, however, spot four skins drying on stakes in an estancia. This was likely due to the skunk’s carnivorous nature and the belief, therefore, that he is necessarily a threat to livestock, chickens etc. Otherwise, apart from the pet industry, the skunk is believed not to be of conservation concern. Hoorah!
But before we leave our friend- who like many mammals is most often spied during the shadowy hours of night, making a sighting all the more treasured, we should pay homage to the gymnast with in him,
“Even when facing an aggressor skunks can do a handstand, bend over backwards and deliver their jets forward into the face of their enemy. The result to the eyes is painful and temporarily blinding.” *
So have that! Our dandy of the Patagonia Steppe packs a punch!
* Lord. R. D. 1997. Mammals of South America. Johns Hopkins University Press