Can the ferret, by definition domestic, live in the wild?


A domestic animal that becomes wild is an identified phenomenon: it is called marronnage. There are many examples of domestic animals returned to live in the wild, out of contact with humans. We will see what is happening with the ferret and if it can live in the wild, when it has been a domestic animal for two millennia.

What is marronnage?

The passage in the wild state of an animal more or less domesticated can be the consequence of a deliberate will of the man. For millennia, man has moved and released domestic or captive animals into the wild, to establish new food resources or for aesthetic and recreational reasons. The passage into the wild can also be done by the animal itself, either that it would have got lost and that it was not found, or that it would have escaped.

Instinct many animals allow them to get by in nature, even though they have always been fed by humans from an early age. We thus observe a real porosity between the populations of domestic animals and those of wild animals, the latter not rejecting the former, and the latter exhibiting the aptitudes to feed and defend themselves. The degree of hostility of the environment they have to face obviously plays an important role. Horses, goats, pigs, and cats are known to switch from domestic to wild quite easily. Insects such as bees are also concerned and specialists observe differences in behavior between domestic bees and wild bees.

However, not all species readily adopt marooning: wild oxen are rare, and among dogs, the dingo is an exception.

Who is the ferret?

Ferrets (Mustela putorius furo) is a subspecies of the European polecat (Mustela putorius), and therefore the polecat’s cousin (Mustela putorius putorius). It is an animal domesticated very early by humans, before the cat, which makes it a full-fledged domestic breed, designed to serve humans for at least 2,500 years. It was in the Middle Ages that he became a pet. But since the beginnings of its domestication, and until the 19th century, it was mainly used to hunt rodents and rabbits. So we can say that the ferret would be quite capable of getting by in nature, alone, at least for food. However, experience contradicts this intuition.

Can ferrets live in the wild?

Man’s propensity to believe that he can use nature for his purposes has created a situation that clearly answers the question: no, ferrets cannot live in the wild.

We are at the beginning of the 20th century. The New Zealanders then face a devastating overpopulation of rabbits, animals themselves introduced by humans to the islands. Given the long tradition of ferret hunting, it was these animals that were chosen and widely released into the wild to regulate the lagomorph population. The results were quite disappointing: ferrets were found to be incapable of stopping rabbit development, and even incapable of growing and establishing stable and lasting wild groups.

The New Zealand authorities then took the decision to cross ferrets with wild polecats to improve the ferrets’ coping skills. This time the result exceeded expectations. While these “augmented” ferrets did a great job of hunting rabbits, they weren’t content to do so, also problematically preying on local protected bird populations. In 2001, the two New Zealand islands had a million super ferrets.

At the same time, Australia experienced a similar problem of overpopulation of rabbits. However, the country was satisfied with the first stage of the intervention, without seeking to cross the domestic ferrets. Australia is a country known to favor marronnage because the human population is small and favors the freedom of animals, especially since breeding is practiced without barriers. Large domestic animals can easily thrive because the local fauna does not include any predators that could threaten or compete with them. Well Australia has never experienced a ferret invasion. However, the authorities remain cautious because the State of Queensland has preventively declared the species as pest and prohibits all detention of ferrets.

Surprisingly, in Switzerland the ferret is considered a wild animal and its possession requires special permission, just like in Portugal, where it is forbidden to keep it for this reason.

An abandoned ferret is a dead ferret

In 2016, France had 2,802 ferrets. The ferret is a popular new pet (NAC) but associations denounce a constant increase in abandonment. These animals are just as much the object of impulse purchases as the most classic rabbits, guinea pigs or chinchillas.

However, the ferret is anything but a discreet animal that can be locked in its cage by feeding it from time to time. His need for sleep is certainly important (between 15 and 20 hours each day). But his awakening moments are intense. Ferrets need a lot of attention at the risk of quickly depressing and they also need free time during which they will move around the home, which should then be seriously secured.
Ferrets have boundless energy and behaviors that put them in danger. It easily looks for nooks and crannies to slip into at the risk of being run over if you are not careful. Because of its attraction to materials suitable for chewing, the modern materials that make up our objects are all potential dangers.

When you welcome a ferret, it’s the whole life of the household that needs to be redesigned. If one is not ready for this, the urge to get rid of it will manifest itself quickly. Beyond the “consumption” of animals, it can also happen that life evolves in such a way that we have to separate ourselves from our pets. Whatever the reason, owners who want to give up their ferret’s company should make the effort to do so. donate to an association who will be able to take charge of him and organize his re-adoption. If this precaution is not taken, in case of abandonment, the animal has a good chance of dying.

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