Sunday, November 9, 2008

Off topic - skunks

Warning, there are no horses in this post. only a skunk.

I write about kids on my other blog - but recently had an encounter with a skunk reminded me of how companies deal with wildlife concerns. Here's the story and a follow up (thanks, Cynthia!). Since writing this I've learned General Mills has done NOTHING to deal with the problem of skunks dying with their garbage on their heads. Don't eat Yoplait yogurt. Send a note to these folks that you won't be back until they really fix the problem. Spread the word on your blogs too.

In 1999 they had met with groups to "try to solve the problem." They printed "please crush your can" on the container. Maybe with enough negative attention they'll do more.

Saturday, November 08, 2008

Raising a Stink

Nothing says Daddy at our house like a wildlife encounter. The father of my children has what I consider an over developed need to bother animals that have the terrible misfortune of being spotted.

A few weeks ago we were at a friends ranch and the kids ran in screaming about the snake in the window. It was curled up safely on the other side of the screen, digesting a mouse.

So of course my husband had to extricate it, creating more screaming, then demonstrate the correct holding technique, point out the mousey lump in its belly, and generally ruin the snake’s day. This is the fourth snake to enter the wildlife legend collection which also includes two fawns, a buffalo, a hawk, many bees, and the all time favorite – a skunk.

(this child in the photo is in the UK and a clear inspiration for my husband)

In fact, the very favorite story our daughters like to tell their friends is the-time-daddy-was-sprayed-by-a-skunk story. It’s been such a popular story I’m surprised they haven’t written a song about it, complete with lyrics like

“He just had to go and see what that noise could be,” and

“Three days are really long when you smell pretty strong.”

But this weekend we had a new skunk story. Sierra was up early with her friend Cammie, who had stayed overnight. Along with Mireya they’d created a haunted house the night before complete with a zombie (a broken Spiderman piƱata wrapped in toilet tissue and splattered with red food dye). So they were especially attuned to scary noises.

Like the sound of a skunk with a can stuck on its head at 6 am.

“Mommy! There’s a skunk outside and it’s got a can on its head! It’s going to DIE!”

Sure enough a skunk, undoubtedly the one that has sprayed our dogs more than once, was wandering the yard with a yogurt container stuck on its tiny head. We ran outside to…

This was where I paused to consider my options. I was driving the kids to Marble Falls in a few hours, and if I got sprayed it was going to be a looong trip. So, wisely, we woke up our wildlife handler, who, with a plastic raincoat and thick gloves actually picked up the skunk, yanked off the yogurt container and stood there in ideal spraying range.

I prayed I was up wind.

The skunk blinked a few times, then calmly left, tail down in appreciation.

So cut up those yogurt cans, folks. But keep your skunk handler on standby.

By the way, this is a real issue. Boycott Yoplait, they don't give a darn about fixing the problem:
Activists raise stink for 'skunk safe' yogurt
By Andrew Quinn

SAN FRANCISCO July 17 (Reuters) - Your tuna sandwich may not be hurting the dolphins, but is your yogurt skunk safe?

In a new campaign, a California animal rights group has declared that Yoplait brand yogurt containers are leading to the agonizing deaths of skunks across the country.

"Thousands of skunks and other wildlife are dying in yogurt containers," Camilla Fox of the Sacramento, California-based Animal Protection Institute said Friday.

"They jam their heads in as they are looking for yogurt and then get trapped."

The stink over skunk-safe yogurt follows earlier campaigns for dolphin-safe tuna, in which animal rights activists targeted tuna fishing nets they said were responsible for the needless deaths of dolphins.

Fox said Yoplait, with its distinctive tapered container, is equally deadly for skunks.

"They are attracted to the smell of the yogurt, and wedge their heads into the container," she said. "When they try to pull out, the rim that curves in acts as a locking mechanism against the animal's fur.

"Because they have short legs, they are unable to push against the container to extricate themselves."

Fox said the skunks, locked in a Yoplait helmet they cannot remove, are blinded and frequently die of suffocation.

"They bump around, they get run over by cars, and they obviously are easy prey," Fox said. "It is a fairly brutal death. One they don't deserve."

Officials at General Mills Inc , the maker of Yoplait, say they have been taking the problem seriously enough to mount rigorous design tests in which they stuff fake skunk heads made of foam into different prototype containers.

Larry Sawyer, General Mills' Director of Government Relations, was not available to comment Friday. But he told the San Jose Mercury News the company was trying to help.

"It is a problem," he said. "We're working on a solution."

Over the next several weeks, a new, "skunk friendlier" Yoplait container with a warning to consumers and a special ridge at the bottom to help skunks extricate themselves will hit supermarket shelves. But the familiar tapered design will stay because it makes the brand recognizable, Sawyer said.

Fox and other skunk advocates say this is not enough, and are encouraging consumers to write to General Mills president Steve Sanger to demand a total container revamp.

"We are trying to negotiate with them," Fox said. "We want to talk more before we call for a boycott."

Donna Backus, a Massachusetts wildlife rehabilitator who was one of the first to identify the Yoplait threat to skunks, says General Mills officials simply do not understand how dangerous the containers can be.

"I'd like to put a huge Yoplait container on the CEO of General Mills and set him out loose on the streets of New York," Backus told the Mercury News.

Copyright 1998 Reuters Limited.


Lasell Jaretzki Bartlett said...

We have met soooo many skunks in our barn, one at a time... they seem very content when we are quiet and calm. I usually remind my NatureLovingHusband that it's time to move another skunk (via havahart trap) and he does it. I was shocked to read about the yoplait container deaths. Bleh! I found your blog via Teachings of the Horse, and enjoy your sense of humor!

Unknown said...

Hi LJB! Glad to hear from you. Thanks for coming by!

I really thought my husband was a goner. I'd think the skunk would have had issues being picked up!

A skunk came up to my husband just last week, so calm he thought it was a cat. amazing.