Skunk from cargo ship captured on Big Island by resident trapping mongoose
While attempting to catch mongoose on his property in the Keaukaha area, Hilo resident Chris Owens caught a skunk.
But not just any skunk. It is the one believed to be spotted by stevedores at Hilo Harbor on Dec. 7, 2022 while cargo was being unloaded.
Skunks are prohibited in Hawai’i. They are avid egg-eaters and would pose a threat to Hawai‘i’s native ground-nesting birds if they become established. They inhabit the mainland U.S., Canada, South America, Mexico and other parts of the world.
In the United States, they are recognized as one of the four primary wild carriers of rabies, a fatal viral disease of mammals that is often transmitted through the bite of an infected animal.
Hawai’i is the only state in the country and one of the few places in the world that is free of rabies. And Hawai’i officials were working feverishly to keep it that way.
Despite multiple intensive night searches by the inspectors from the Hawai‘i Department of Agriculture Plant Quarantine Branch and the U.S. Department of Agriculture – Wildlife Services, the skunk had eluded capture until Thursday when Owens of Laehala Street went to check his traps.
Owens had set them to catch mongoose that were raiding his chicken coop. That’s when he found the skunk in one of the traps, which was baited with teriyaki chicken.
He contacted the Department of Agriculture Plant Quarantine Branch. Officials and inspectors were dispatched immediately and retrieved the skunk, which had to be put down to test for rabies at a mainland laboratory. Owens had only begun trapping mongoose this week.
The skunk had been on the lam since Dec. 7, 2022, when the stevedores at Hilo Harbor reported the sighting. The next day, a skunk was reported near Hilo Airport and a rapid response team set up multiple traps, night-vision cameras and conducted night searches over the course of multiple weeks, but the skunk was not spotted or captured.
The crew then moved the search activities to the nearby Hilo Transfer Station in case the skunk moved there, but no luck.
On Jan. 28 a skunk was reported running around the Naniloa Golf Course on Banyan Drive. On Feb. 1 a skunk was reported in Keaukaha. State staff responded to each of the subsequent sightings, conducting night searches and setting traps, but again with no luck.
“We are fortunate that Mr. Owens was able to contain the skunk which has been eluding capture for several months,” said Sharon Hurd, chairperson of the Hawai‘i Board of Agriculture. “Because skunks are nocturnal animals it made it more difficult for staff to track this one down. It takes all of us to protect Hawai‘i.”
Live skunks have been previously spotted by stevedores and captured at Honolulu Harbor in February 2018, January 2021, July 2021 and June 2022.
On Maui, a live skunk was captured at Kahului Harbor on December 2020 and one was captured at a trucking company in August 2018. Also on Maui, the Department of Land and Natural Resources captured a skunk at Kanahā Pond State Wildlife Sanctuary in August 2022. All previously captured skunks have tested negative for rabies.
Sightings or captures of illegal and invasive species should be reported to the state’s toll-free Pest Hotline at 808-643-PEST (7378).