An average guy is bestowed with the power to possess others' bodies via a smartphone app.
What is the saddest thing you have seen an animal do?
The saddest thing I ever saw an animal do was a mother skunk trying in vain to rescue her kits from a flooded irrigation sump pipe, where, unknown to me, she had built her nest.
Then even sadder, what she did after she discovered her drowned kits. This occurred about 5 years ago.
I have free-range chickens, and to protect them I will shoot certain skunks that get inside my chicken house usually only when they not only steal eggs, but also have killed some of my chickens.
Otherwise, I generally try to let the skunk go if it has only eaten some eggs I neglected to gather—my own fault for leaving the door open after dark and leaving those ovewhelmingly temptingly delicious free-range chicken eggs there for the taking.
If it’s blooded, though, I can’t let it continue, since an emboldened skunk may even try for a chicken during the day. While I normally don’t take pictures of skunks, I actually got a picture of the mother skunk when she was pregnant and so stuffed with eggs she could hardly move—sometime in February or maybe March 2012.
She was one those skunks apparently harmless to the chickens.
I tried to shoo the rooster away with a long pole, but he kept on wandering back over by the almost round skunk—she was warm and he must have been cold since the rest of the chickens were on perches over his head.
I even (carefully!!!) nudged the skunk, even slightly rolling her up on her side, but she wouldn’t move, either, not even to spray.
She was behaving more like a lazy stubborn cat than a wild animal. Instead of getting a gun, I went back to my house and grabbed my camera and returned to the chicken house.
I got four pictures of her sleeping with the buff brahma bantam rooster on the floor—such a cute shot I couldn’t resist (three close-ups were hopelessly blurred, but the more distant shot came out nice).
I titled the picture “Sleeping with the Enemy.” I left the door open for the rest of that night, and she left sometime before dawn.
“Biff” the rooster didn’t seem to have as much as a single feather ruffled when I saw him out later in daylight that same morning.
That rooster is still alive as of today and still has the habit of sometimes sleeping on the floor, proving the maxim true: whatever doesn’t kill you makes you stronger. Here’s the picture of Biff and the pregnant skunk in “Sleeping with the Enemy.” About two months later my water allotment (from the Twin Falls Canal Company, one water share, diverted by Milner Dam, and carried to me by a canal from the Snake River) was turned on for the first time by my neighbor for the 2012 irrigation season with a rather large “head” meaning it was flowing fast with a large volume of water.
I saw my front yard was flooding since something was plugging the sump (sort of a six-inch in diameter culvert dedicated only to flood irrigation water) that passed under my driveway into a carefully dug ditch I could fit with a portable check-dam.
In hope that whatever was blocking the pipe could be quickly found, I ran to the exit part of the pipe and could see that a small amount of water was coming through, but definitely not enough.
When I reached inside the pipe, I couldn’t feel what was impeding the water, so I knew I had to stop the water from further flooding my yard. I ran back around to the place where the irrigation water was pouring into the catch-box at the head of the sump, and from there overflowing out into my front yard.
With considerable effort, resulting in something painful giving way in my shoulder, I managed to put the fitted plug back into the end of the pipe and opened six to eight gates upstream so the water would go against my back fence and not flood my lawn the rest of the way to my house—I didn’t want to install an ‘indoor swimming pool’ in my basement. I then tried to figure out what was clogging up my pipe.
I pushed a garden hose through, and eventualy dislodged a blockage consisting of lots of broken twigs and some leaves.
When I’d freed up enough debris so I could shine a flashlight through and see the light from the other end, I un-plugged the gated pipe and let the water go into the receiver box west of my driveway, the entrance into the sump.
This action washed out what I thought was the rest of the sticks on the east side of my driveway, and I didn’t really pay attention at first to what else might have washed out.
I was just relieved my sump was no longer plugged and I could get to watering my orchard, necessary since southern Idaho averages about 9 inches of rain a year around where I live.
I put up a check-dam so the water would divert into my orchard on the far side of the pipe, and went inside my home to do other stuff. A couple of hours later, early afternoon, I went out to move my check-dam (a home-made one consisting of a tarp-covered triangular rock that fits into certain places along the dug ditch near my trees) and when I lifted the rock, the suddenly much more shallow water revealed the bodies of four drowned fully-furred baby skunks, about the size of one-month-old cat kittens.
The blockage in my sump (As the opening was only six inches in diameter, how did the skunk fit when she was pregnant?) had been a skunk nest! I took the baby skunks out of the water.
It had been too long, so I laid their bodies on the bank about five feet downstream from the emergence of the sump water, and placed the check-dam further downstream so that the canal water could irrigate different trees. About an hour later, just as I was checking on the progress of the flood irrigation from the new check-dam position, I saw the mother skunk frantically running upstream on the south edge of the drainage ditch—the fastest I had ever seen a skunk move in my entire life.
I felt horrible as I knew what she was about to discover.
What was worse, though, was that she actually ran past her drowned kits in her desperation, apparently thinking that they were still inside her nest in the then totally submerged sump pipe. Individual skunks have white stripes of significantly varying widths and intensities, so when I walked a little bit closer, I recognized that it was the same skunk I had previously photgraphed in the chicken house next to Biff the rooster.
She was of course much more slender now, but the pattern of two broad white stripes, with the narrower black one between them, that merged on the upper part of her back to form a single wide white band, which then continued up her neck to abruptly end at the top of her head, was quite distinctive—and beautiful.
No wonder she’d been so round and rotund the first time I saw her; she’d been eating for five. I watched her quickly approach the submerged exit of the sump, the desperate mother immediately trying to go into rapidly flowing water at the sump emergence in an attempt to rescue her kits.
The force of the water was too strong.
I sadly observed her efforts to enter the end of the pipe about ten times, sometimes being partly washed downstream a few feet before climbing out of the water and attempting to enter the pipe again, and again. Since there was (and still is) a long fence between me and the receiver box, I knew it would take over a minute to go across the driveway and go through the gate up by my house almost 100 feet away to the north (the fence was to enclose the chickens and keep them out of the orchard and away from my wife’s garden), so I would not be able to shut things off in a timely manner.
The water flow had been so brisk the first time that plugging end of the pipe to stop the front yard flood had injured my shoulder and it still hurt, so I doubted I could plug it again—another reason to stay.
Since her kits were already out of the pipe, also I thought it might be better to leave the water running and hope she’d give up trying to get into the sump emergence and possibly drown, too. Finally, after being swept a few extra feet down the ditch from losing her grip during a more aggressive attempt to enter the pipe (she almost managed to go underwater all the way in that ultimate effort), she again climbed out of the water on the south bank close enough this time to actually spot the lifeless forms of her drowned kits.
The approximately ten attempts and her morbid discovery had taken less than two minutes. I thought that this was going to be the saddest part to me, since this mother had tried so desperately and valliantly to rescue her babies, only to discover it was already too late.
I thought she’d just check the drowned kits, and finding them dead, would simply abandon them and seek shelter somewhere else. I was wrong.
The saddest part was yet to come.
Because, despite the fact her kits were obviously dead, she didn’t stop trying to save them… She sniffed the first one’s limp body, and actually licked it for a minute to clean ditch debris off its fur—or maybe it was an attempt to wake it up.
She then picked up the dead kit by the scruff of its neck as a mother cat would a living kitten and carried it across the road (very dangerous busy road during the day) a few feet south of the ditch and disappeared into a nearly empty drainage canal on the far side, below my line of sight.
She returned across the road without the kit about five minutes later and picked up the next one to carry it across the road as well after licking it all over like she had the first one. I was so upset and felt so guilty I began to cry a little.
I couldn’t have known the blockage had been a skunk nest, but that’s what it turned out to be.
I could no longer bear to watch, so I left the forlorn and suffering mother to her ‘rescue’ effort.
An hour later I went back to the ditch and wasn’t surprised to see that all kits had been removed.
No skunk has ever again built a nest in the sump pipe in the five years since then. This, in my opinion, is the saddest thing I’ve ever witnessed an animal do.