My duties as the zoo veterinarian covered more than just the animal collection. From time to time there were situations in which the blowgun I had designed proved invaluable.
One such occasion followed a call from a worried householder who lived not far from the zoo grounds. “There’s a skunk in my swimming pool, and he can’t get out. Can you help?” she said.
The striped (as opposed to the spotted) skunk is the main carrier of rabies in the prairies, so I approached the problem with great care. Zookeeper and friend Stu Hampton and I headed to the home to see what we could do.
When we arrived the situation took on an extra level of complexity. The skunk was not just in the pool. A bedraggled and soaking wet, thoroughly miserable, lump of black and white hair sat in the middle of the pool on the blue cover, or so-called blanket. Two glistening eyes, the only bright thing that identified the animal as more than a child’s teddy bear, looked resignedly at us.
We both went to the long edge of the oblong pool in the hope of persuading the animal to escape at the other side. It did shift away from us but only got to the pool’s edge before we realized why it was using the centre of the blanket as a resting place. When it tried to reach up to the pool edge, its weight promptly depressed the nylon material so that the skunk sank up to its belly and could not reach the tiled rim. Carrying one of the zoo nets Stu quickly went to the other side, where the skunk was still trying its best. It promptly retired to the middle.
My next possible solution was to use the blowgun. With the dart loaded with a suitable drug I went back to the long side of the pool so that the range would be minimal. The creature at once retreated. I could in no way ask my partner in this exercise to stand opposite me and drive the skunk back to the middle so that I could dart at a range of no more than three and a half metres. Such an action would be beyond dangerous. The last thing either of us needed was for Stu to be darted if the projectile should ricochet off the blanket surface.
So, back to the short end of the pool. Now the hours of practice came into their own. The target was no larger than three of my palms held side by each. At a range of fifteen metres I pinged the dart right into the skunk. Success! He was soon out cold. The housewife looked amazed, Stu seemed impressed and I was delighted. The rest was simple. I lifted the blanket’s edge, causing the skunk slide down to the other side where Stu used the net. As a fisherman he had plenty of experience. Luckily the animal had not discharged its infamous scent so all was good.