When you think of skunks, the first word that pops into your head might not be “cuddly,” but to a thriving community of skunk enthusiasts, the furry critters the perfect addition to the family. National Geographic photographer Vincent J. Musi has seen his fair share of exotic and wild animals, but nothing could have prepared him for Skunk Fest, an annual September event in Ohio that unites fellow skunk lovers and their animals. Setting up a makeshift studio, Musi captured attendants of all ages with their unusual companions.
Musi acknowledges that the issue of exotic pet ownership is a complex one, as domestic environments are often unsuitable for wild animals, who thrive in their natural habitats. Deborah Cipriani, founder of Skunk Fest, is passionate about humane and informed skunk ownership, stressing the importance of research prior to adoption. As owner of Skunk Haven, the country’s only domestic skunk rescue, she lovingly tends to over 50 skunks in her 5-bedroom home.
For many skunk owners, the animals are truly a part of the family, beloved for their affectionate and playful demeanor. Musi’s subjects explain that they often share their beds with their furry friends, who no longer have the ability to spray. Skunk Fest features a variety of skunk-based activities, including a beauty pageant in which the “best dressed” critter is crowned; visitors often tote their companions on leashes and in strollers. These animals certainly aren’t the right pets for those who cannot commit fully to their care, but as expressed in Musi’s compelling portraits, they are loving, beautiful creatures who deserve our respect.