Nestled within the serene expanse of Cornell’s campus, alongside the bustling student life and academic enthusiasm, lies a world of wildlife that call this 745-acre ecosystem home. While many enjoy the skunks, squirrels and chipmunks that share the campus, others are concerned about their ability to coexist with these wild animals.
“Walking back from class each day, I see skunks, sometimes even a whole family of them, and honestly, they scare me. What if they spray me?” said Lila Mager ’27.
Numerous first-year students share Mager’s concerns on close interactions with campus wildlife on North Campus, notably skunks. Throughout the years, incoming students have expressed their apprehensions regarding navigating the ecosystem that is present at Cornell. Many have voiced reservations regarding these animals to The Sun.
“I noticed that the health department alerted people of a skunk-biting. It honestly makes me scared,” said Nate Abrams ’27. “They always seem to be hanging near my trash.”
In 2022, the Tompkins County Health Department issued a cautionary statement after reports of two skunks following or approaching individuals, with two recorded bites, encouraging citizens to take caution and avoid direct contact with wildlife in the case of a rabid skunk. Abrams was mainly concerned with possibly inheriting rabies disease from a skunk bite.
John Hatfield, president of Wildlife Resolutions, a construction company specializing in wildlife-related issues, offered reassurance: he dispelled concerns about rabies, noting that it is an infrequent worry in Tompkins County and on campus.
“Bats are our biggest concern with rabies, because they can get inside the buildings,” Hatfield said. “But to be honest, we haven’t seen a lot of rabies in raccoons or skunks on campus.”
Some students have come in close contact with bats this year, especially in older residential halls. Specifically, West Campus gothics residents have recently felt concerned for their safety after discovering bat, bee and other bug infestations within their dorms.
There has yet to be a notable human-bat attack in over 12 years due to the University’s proactive measures in averting potential wildlife-related risks, said Hatfield.
With the University’s proactive measures, Hatfield emphasized that the diverse array of animals inhabiting the campus is safe and benign. Among all wildlife, skunks are the ones Wildlife Resolutions encounter most frequently — especially on North Campus.
Hatfield explained that the plethora of campus dumpsters around first-year residence halls makes North Campus a likely target for skunks. As opportunistic omnivores, skunks often forage in areas with garbage.
“Anything they find, they’ll eat,” Hatfield said.
Nevertheless, skunks are inherently cautious and yielding animals. When confronted with danger, skunks typically seek a means of escape. They will likely attempt to flee if a means of escape presents itself.
“If you attack them, they’re gonna attack you,” Hatfield said. “[But] they’re just kind of doing their own thing. They’re just forging around.”
Like skunks, many students often encounter chipmunks on Central Campus. Chipmunks in the Ithaca area often gain access to classrooms through unlocked doors.
“You’re sitting at a desk, taking a test, and a chipmunk darts by,” Hatfield said. “It’s not a matter of people’s physical safety being in danger. Instead, it’s more of an inconvenience.”
Squirrels or other small rodents entering buildings do not harm students and faculty members’ safety, according to Hatfield. He emphasized that remaining attentive to closing doors helps ensure that these energetic creatures stay out of the classroom.
Cornell partners with Wildlife Resolutions to assist in the removal of these wild animals from campus buildings. But Hatfield said these animals will not be killed; instead, Wildlife Resolutions will release them back into the wild with care, serving as an example of Cornell’s emphasis on wildlife conservation.
Although students are concerned about the animals and their potential danger, some students told The Sun that “Jeffery the Skunk” — a friendly skunk that has become a running joke among freshmen with videos of the skunk populating the Class of 2027 Snapchat page — has become an unofficial mascot of North Campus.
“I love the skunk, it’s a friendly face you always see in the morning,” Tyler Gray ’27 said. “They’re always there to greet you at the Court [Kay-Bauer Hall] door.”
For those eager to delve deeper into the diverse world of Cornell’s wildlife, the Cornell Wildlife Society provides an outlet to educate students on how to naturally coexist.
Samantha Palombo ’27 is a Sun contributor and can be reached at [email protected].