CHICAGO (WBBM) — Wet weather at the beginning of the year has led to an increase in skunk sightings across the Chicago area according to a local expert.

Steve Sullivan, urban ecology curator at the Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum, says destruction of rural habitat and flooding of underground burrows forced skunks to relocate near people whose garbage cans provide a ready food supply.

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Local wildlife control operators have been busier than ever fielding phone calls and trapping the animals.

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“I have never seen so many [skunks] in the neighborhood as right now,” said Lucy Spears, office manager of A-1 Pest Control, which covers the North Shore. “My gosh, a lot of cars are taking them out and they are just running rampant.”

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ABC Humane Wildlife Control & Prevention, which serves the six-county region, has captured 687 skunks so far in 2011, up from 426 skunks at this point last year.

The state’s skunk population in 2010 jumped 46 percent, and it has increased eight out of the last 10 years, according to the Illinois Department of Natural Resources, which monitors it through a road-kill index.

Sullivan says all natural populations go through cycles, but he says skunk numbers are also increasing because of the ready availability of urban garbage cans.

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A skunk’s spray, which can shoot up to 10 feet, can temporarily impair vision.