Another 'Wee Stoater', yet it isn't, It's a 'Ferret!
This week we take a good look at an animal that has been around for a very long time, namely, the Ferret.
This cuddly wee thing that gets on well with humans yet will strike fear into the hearts of rabbits and any other animal that takes it's fancy, and believe it or not they are not adverse to taking on a fox if they so desire, not for food, as their staple diet is rabbits, but if they find one in their patch they will not hesitate to persuade it to leave post haste.
We have seen these little animals on the telly, having a go at taking a chunk out of a presenters finger and refusing to let go much to the annoyance of the man who's finger was dripping blood, but most enjoyable to us watching him grimace with pain and not being able to do a thing about it, until the owner and handler took pity on him and released the ferrets grip. We see this T.V clip time and time again, and yet, it still gives a good laugh. Not much fun having a set of razor sharp teeth clamped on to you, yet they can be great pets to have around you, and if they are handled often when they are young, then you should not have the fear of joining that presenter.
Many years ago I found one at the Shalunt area on the Rhubodach road, it was a mix between a ferret and a polecat, I was not sure if it was friend or foe but I did not take any chances. (I was feart) I managed to get it into a hat and put it into a compartment in the van that I had made into a caravanette, so we were safe from it's teeth, or so we thought, we did not realise that it could squeeze through the smallest of spaces, which it soon did and caused quite a stir. It just sat up, took a good look at us and then went about sniffing and searching the van, and even cooried in to us for heat and company as it was obvious to it that we were not a threat to it, nor it to us, so we quickly became friends, it even got on with our cat!
Well I built a hutch for it down the back, on stilts so that dogs etc could not get near it, and then asked around to find it's owner, but with no luck, so that was it my family had increased by one.
Finding food was not a problem for me as at that time I worked in a butchers and could get scraps of liver etc, but I was not sure of how to attend to the upbringing of this new family member, but I knew a man who did. He advised me that they liked company of their own kind and if they could not get any then supply them with cuddly toys to keep it amused, which I did and this helped for a while, then as this wee thing had been sexed as a girl, or as a 'Jill' as they are called, it had come to the age of wanting a fella, or a 'Jack' as they are called, well I was not in any way inclined to have another increase in my family but if it was for the good of the ferret then I would let things advance, so I took it to see a male of the species and they took to each other right away. They were left overnight in their boudoir and I picked it up the following day and it was the first time I have seen a ferret with a smile on it's face .
The story does not end there but I will call a halt as I could on for hours and bore you to tears.
The thing is why do we have ferrets? answer, they are killers by nature and will soon fill up a larder with rabbits for the dinners when times were hard, or even for when times were not lean and the rabbit was preferred to what was available in the butchers and grocers, it is a question on what you were brought up on. If you were lucky to have roast beef, sirloin and fillet steak, then you would frown on the humble rabbit if it were to placed on your dinner plate, and if you were brought up on rabbit, then it becomes your roast beef etc, even if your purse or wallet did stretch to the prices that were in the butchers. It is like, if you were fed tripe in your younger days you would still enjoy it, but if it was served up to you at the age of say, twenty for the first time do you think that you would enjoy it ? It is debatable. Shooting parties used to go out at night and by the light of the tractors headlights the rabbits would be shot in their hundreds to be sold to whoever would buy them. Not a nice way, but a man with a few ferrets and perhaps a couple of Jack Russel dogs would catch enough of them to feed his family and friends, if he has any extra, and he may even make a few bob into the bargain and get a lot of enjoyment working his animals. Gone are the days when there was a big net surrounding a big rabbit warren, with smaller nets like long sleeves attached to the ground with wooden spikes at every visible hole, then the ferrets were released. Utmost chaos followed with the rabbits trying to escape from the razor sharp teeth of the ferrets, and ended up in the net bags, and some that had evaded the teeth by escaping from a bolt hole, which is a smaller, but well camouflaged hole, would quickly be caught by the terriers. Nowadays it is for a hobby, to keeps the ferrets working and to get their owner out into the country and have a bit of enjoyment, but that is very hard to find at the present time as the rabbits are very thin on the ground as I mentioned before in my article about rabbits. If the ferretters go out too often then there may be no rabbits to catch at all in the near future, so they have to curtail their days in pursuing their hobby to let the population recover and for the well being of their ferrets as without the rabbits they would be surplus to requirement, and so may die out, I don't see this happening as we know that rabbits breed like, well, rabbits.
The ferret in my photograph comes from Lochly Cottage at Loch Fad, and is a Jill and is extremely friendly. I was taking photos of her as she was walking along the Causway with her owner Lindsay, but she was keeping her head down and I could not get a good one so I picked her up, set my camera to close up and got a good one, and escaped without any teeth marks whatsoever. So there you have it ,if you see one on the loose don't be
afraid of it, it is probably lost, and feeling very lonely, pick it up and take it home and try and find who belongs to it as they will be worried about it, and while you have it in your care, enjoy it's playfulness and it's fearless attitude to humans .
First Published in the Buteman 2006