LIHUE — The second report ever of a skunk in Hawaii surfaced at the end of August when a live skunk was found in a Maui shipping container, and staff with the state Department of Agriculture say it’s a good thing the animal was caught.
That’s because they’re one of the four wild animals considered to be the primary carriers of the rabies virus, a fatal viral disease of mammals most often transmitted through the bite of a rabid animal. Hawaii is the only state in the U.S. and one of the few places in the world that is rabies-free.
“If they were to become established on the islands, it’d serve as a reservoir for rabies,” HDOA staff said Wednesday.
In February, a live skunk was captured at Pier 1 at Honolulu Harbor. That was the first recorded capture of a live skunk in Hawaii.
The five-pound striped skunk was found by workers unloading a container of ceramic tiles in the late afternoon on Aug. 30. They smelled the skunk before they found it, but soon discovered it hiding in a container and trapped it inside.
Then they called agricultural inspectors at the Maui Plant Quarantine Branch of the HDOA. Maui inspectors were dispatched to the company and set two traps in the container overnight, and the stowaway was found in one of the traps on Friday morning.
“We appreciate the quick reaction of the trucking crew in containing the animal and contacting HDOA inspectors,” said Phyllis Shimabukuro-Geiser, acting chairperson of the state Board of Agriculture. “Had the animal escaped from the container, it would have been a much larger problem, and we are grateful for their awareness and cooperation.”
Skunks haven’t ever been reported on Kauai, but the animals are nocturnal carnivores, opportunistic eaters that favor bird eggs, small rodents, bugs and fruit.
That would put Kauai’s endangered seabird and forestbird population at risk, a population that’s already facing predation by pigs, rats and feral cats, as well as habitat loss and other threats to their existence.
For instance, the endangered seabird population has been in decline since at least 1993, and experts are employing methods for saving these species like establishing predator-proof breeding and nesting areas and trapping predators in places like the Hono O Na Pali Natural Area Reserve.
Studies completed by the Kauai Endangered Seabird Recovery Project in early 2018 show between 1993 and 2013, populations of the ao (Newell’s shearwater) declined by 94 percent, and uau (Hawaiian petrel) by 78 percent, according to a release from the state Department of Land and Natural Resources.
Scientists say Kauai’s endangered seabirds are also under threat from power-line collisions, light attraction and invasive plants.
Fast action caught the smelly Maui stowaway, and HDOA advises those who work with containers and in the shipping industry to keep a sharp eye for invaders, as well as to remember not to touch any of the invasive species they might encounter.
Instead, call the agricultural inspectors and keep an eye on the animal.
“In the case of stowaway animals, containment of the animal is critical, and humans and other animals should not come into physical contact with it,” HDOA spokesperson Janelle Saneshi said in a news release.
The skunk was sent to Oahu for testing. Results are expected soon.
Jessica Else, environment reporter, can be reached at 245-0452 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.