July 21, 2008

Strachan the Albino Skunk Kicks Up a Stink

By Gareth Edwards

BEING best known for their foul-smelling defence mechanism has given the skunk a less than appealing public image.

But staff at a Lothians zoo are predicting a baby of the species will soon have curious visitors pouring into the attraction.

The little creature is a rare example of an albino skunk and stunned staff at Five Sisters Zoo in West Calder when he was pulled out of a litter of baby skunks.

And the striking animal is set to become a TV star, after making his appearance in front of camera crews filming a documentary at the attraction.

The team from Channel Five were there with presenter Michaela Strachan to film the latest series of Michaela's Baby Animals, due to be screened on the channel later this year.

Zookeepers initially planned to name it Michaela, in honour of the former Really Wild Show presenter, but after discovering it was a baby boy decided on Strachan instead.

The little skunk, now eight weeks old, is said to be doing very well, and staff are certain he will prove a hit with visitors.

Owner Shirley Curran said: "We were all really surprised, as the litter had just been born and so we took the crew along to film them. The keeper looked into the den to check on them and was amazed to see this pure white animal there.

"Michaela was really pleased that we decided to name the little creature after her, and she'll be welcome back to check up on him any time. We are all just delighted he is doing so well, and I'm sure he will be a big hit with visitors.

"I think it's safe to say this is the only albino skunk in Scotland which will be on show for the public, and we will be making sure he gets the best care possible."

The animals are native to the Americas, although Strachan's parents came from a zoo in England. Skunks are best known for their ability to excrete a strong, foul-smelling odour when threatened, and are normally born black with a distinctive white stripe down their back.

The mammals are never born all-black. Experts say that the albino baby is extremely rare, with only an estimated one in every 20,000 skunks born pure white.

They are also hardly ever seen in the wild, as their lack of camouflage makes them an easy target for hungry predators.

Dawn McComisch, a regular visitor to the zoo, said: "It's amazing to see, and it is so cute. You would never see something like this in the wild, so it is a real opportunity for people here and I'm sure it'll be really popular."

The West Lothian Zoo is one of the area's top visitor attractions, and as well as skunks they look after prairie dogs, meerkats, reindeer, monkeys, lemurs, reptiles and crocodiles.

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