- reporter Joel Dudley (originally published VNT11.12 page 05)
The popularity of pet ferrets has led to welfare concerns, including the possibility that some have been “informally euthanised” by owners struggling to care for them.
Ian Kearns, chief executive officer at the Ferret Education and Research Trust (FERT), spoke to VN Times about trends in ferret keeping and his organisation’s concerns about welfare. He said: “The ferret population has been a strongly contested subject for many years. There is no official figure and the reason for that is multifold. Firstly, there is a working population of ferrets and not all these animals are kept by those who practise ideal ferret husbandry and, therefore, do not disclose that they own animals. “Furthermore, ferrets are normally kept in greater numbers than cats and dogs – it is not uncommon for ferrets to be kept in groups of five or more. People who take their ferrets to shows have been known to keep in excess of 30. What is clear is that when FERT completed the Ferret Census in 2009, there were thought to be more ferrets than are forecast now. At its peak, it was thought to be more than 1.5 million ferrets. Nowadays, it is thought that figure could be between 800,000 and a million.”
Offering an explanation of the population spike and subsequent fall off, Mr Kearns also said: “There was a wealth of media popularity, with celebrities taking ferrets as pets. Paris Hilton and Jonathan Ross were very public in putting across that they were owners. This appears to have led to an increase in ferret ownership, but it also brought an increase in ferrets going through rescue and welfare centres. “Over the past 12 to 18 months, there has also been another shift – an economic one. The reasons people are now citing to relinquish ferrets include moving into accommodation where animals aren’t allowed, the cost of veterinary bills and food, and family break-up. Difficult times are ahead and along with personal austerity measures comes the closure of many rescue centres, which were financed by the personal income and goodwill of individuals.”
On a troubling note, Mr Kearns added: “What happens to the ferrets that are not handed into welfare centres is worrying – I suspect they are either being unofficially euthanised or released into the wild. This is an environment they will find it difficult to thrive in, especially as we have entered winter, when the daylight hours are shorter and the availability of foodstuffs is limited. Most domesticated animals have lost their hunting techniques and will become opportunist gatherers.
“The overall picture is very mixed. Grim at certain levels regarding unwanted ferrets – where do they go, what do we do with them? – but positive in certain respects, as they are a popular animal and people’s curiosity is normally enough to give them a try – then they fall in love with them and give them good homes.”
Joel Dudley, BA MA
Tel: 01733 383544