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Hawaii kills stowaway skunk to keep state free of invasive species and rabies, officials say

Maui, Hawaii, trucking company workers smelled a live skunk stowed away in a container of ceramic tiles, and called state officials who caught the animal, euthanized it and will test it for rabies to keep the state free of the invasive species.
Maui, Hawaii, trucking company workers smelled a live skunk stowed away in a container of ceramic tiles, and called state officials who caught the animal, euthanized it and will test it for rabies to keep the state free of the invasive species. Hawaii Department of Agriculture

A skunk’s trip to Hawaii last week was short-lived — and fatal, according to the state’s agriculture department.

Trucking company workers in Kahului, Maui, were unloading a container of ceramic tiles on the afternoon of Aug. 30 when they smelled something funny, state officials said in a news release Wednesday. Workers suspected they’d seen a small animal in the container, too.

Worried about what was inside, the workers shuttered the container and called in Hawaii Department of Agriculture inspectors. Those inspectors laid a couple of traps in the container to catch whatever was inside.

The traps did their job: A stowaway striped skunk was caught in one of them, and the animal was removed by inspectors the next morning, officials said. It weighed in at five pounds.

Authorities said they shipped the invasive animal to Oahu on Tuesday for a rabies test. A spokesperson for the agriculture department said the animal was euthanized to undergo that test, the Honolulu Star-Advertiser reports.

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Inspectors shared pictures of the captured skunk. Hawaii Department of Agriculture

The skunk’s brief trip to Maui in the container made the animal — for a time, at least — the lone live skunk known to be in the wild in Hawaii.

The first skunk ever captured in the state was found earlier this year at Pier 1 in Honolulu, officials said. That first skunk was spotted on Feb. 16 scurrying around with a yogurt cup on its head, officials said.

Officials said they didn’t know how the earlier skunk ended up on the pier, but at least one official had a theory.

“It’s likely it was a hitchhiker, probably on a vehicle,” said Jonathan Ho, of the state’s agriculture department, according to KHON. “It was quite dirty, quite greasy, and so it’s very possible … it was a stowaway inside an engine compartment, nice and warm, jumped in, got on the boat, and he got a seven-day cruise to Hawaii.”

Skunks are banned in Hawaii, unless they’re in a zoo or are being used for permitted research, the agriculture department said. That’s in part because skunks carry rabies, and Hawaii is the only state in the country where rabies isn’t found.

It was lucky that this skunk was quarantined in the container, officials said.

“Had the animal escaped from the container, it would have been a much larger problem,” Phyllis Shimabukuro-Geiser, acting chairperson of the Hawaii Board of Agriculture, said in a statement.

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