Ferrets, stoats and weasels | Christchurch City Libraries

Ferrets, stoats and weasels had been initially launched to New Zealand to assist management rabbit numbers. Nevertheless their very own numbers have elevated dramatically and created a separate downside as a result of in addition they prey on native birds, eggs and chicks.

Rabbit numbers grew so shortly after their introduction to New Zealand that by the 1870s they’d develop into an agricultural pest, destroying farmer’s crops and competing with sheep for grazing. Farmers demanded that the pure enemy of rabbits in England, ferrets, stoats and weasels, be imported to cope with the issue.

Though chicken specialists protested on the time, mustelids (the identify for the household which stoats, ferrets and weasels belong to) had been introduced into the nation and launched onto farm land. Inside 20 years their numbers had elevated and so they had unfold into areas of native forest. By 1903 the federal government had modified its coverage on introducing mustelids, however official safety of the animals remained till 1936.


The ferret is the biggest of the three launched mustelids. It’s normally between 48-56 cm lengthy, together with its tail (concerning the size of a small cat). It has a creamy-coloured coat, with black tricks to the fur. They’re profitable breeders, producing between 4 and eight kittens every year. Inside three months of being born, the younger ferret is able to shifting out into its personal territory.

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Like the opposite mustelids, the ferret has excellent listening to and a powerful sense of odor. It hunts primarily at evening, and is an excellent climber, which suggests it will probably steal eggs and chicks from nests in bushes. Ferrets are one of many few predators in a position to kill an grownup kiwi. It’s going to additionally kill little blue penguins, possums, lizards, eels, hedgehogs and different small mammals. Though ferrets prey primarily on rabbits, they may feed on native birds, particularly ground-nesting birds that are simple to catch. Black stilt are one of many severely endangered birds underneath menace from ferrets.

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Ferrets had been first launched in 1879 into the Conway River valley on the South Island east coast to regulate rabbits, however they shortly discovered that native birds had been simple prey as properly. Ferrets, in contrast to the opposite mustelids in New Zealand, are saved as pets and farmed for his or her fur. Within the Eighties farms had been established to breed ferrets for the fur commerce, however when the market collapsed, most of the farmed ferrets escaped or had been launched into the wild. This was particularly noticeable in Northland, the place there was an enormous drop within the variety of brown kiwi as soon as ferrets had been established for the primary time within the space. Ferrets are additionally in a position to transmit the illness bovine tuberculosis to cattle. This has severe implications for New Zealand’s farming business.

Up to now ferrets had been normally discovered solely in farmland, river-beds, or within the scrub on the perimeters of forested areas, however latest reviews have proven that they’ve moved deeper into the bush. New Zealand now has the biggest inhabitants of untamed ferrets of any nation on this planet. In March 2002 the federal government banned the sale, distribution and breeding of ferrets, though pet ferret house owners might hold their present pets till they died. This was carried out to take away the menace that escaped home ferrets posed to native wildlife.


The stoat is the commonest of the three mustelids, and is among the launched animals which has tailored most efficiently to life in New Zealand. Stoats might be discovered nearly wherever in New Zealand, from seashores to the excessive nation, though they’re extra widespread in forests than ferrets. They’re able to cowl large distances.

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The stoat grows to between 34-40 cm lengthy, together with its tail. It is vitally skinny, and about half the dimensions of a rabbit. It has a chestnut-brown coat, which turns white in winter, a light-coloured stomach, and a bushy, black-tipped tail.

It’s an especially fierce fighter, killing its prey with a pointy chew behind the ear. To catch birds, it’s going to first mesmerise them by circling round and round them after which it’s going to pounce. Stoats will kill greater than they want for meals if they’ve the chance. They may even assault prey a lot bigger than themselves.

Feminine stoats have the weird potential to hold fertilised eggs contained in the physique from mating in summer time till the next spring. Younger stoats are adults at 2 months, and feminine kittens might be mated whereas nonetheless within the nest.

Stoats had been launched to New Zealand in 1884 to regulate the rabbit downside, however analysis has proven that in addition they prey on black stilt, kereru (wooden pigeons), kaka, kiwi and different birds. Parakeets, yellowheads and kaka are notably in danger as a result of they nest in holes in bushes which the stoats are in a position to climb. “Mast” years, when beech forests produce large quantities of seed, see an explosion within the numbers of mice which feed on the seed. Stoat numbers will improve due to the mice, however then in addition they prey on native birds.

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It’s estimated that stoats kill a median of 40 North Island brown kiwi chicks a day – a complete of 15,000 a 12 months, and 60% of the chicks born every year. One other 35 % of the chicks are killed by different predators, together with ferrets, leaving solely 5% of all North Island brown kiwi chicks that hatch to outlive. Trapping can solely take away a small a part of the stoat and ferret inhabitants, and analysis is being undertaken to search out out different methods of defending the kiwi and different native birds.


Weasels are the smallest of the three mustelids, with a skinny, muscular physique and a small head. Its colouring could be very just like the stoat, however with a extra red-brown coat, and a shorter tail. They develop to 20-25 cm lengthy and can assault prey a lot bigger than themselves.

Weasels will not be as widespread in New Zealand as different mustelids, however in addition they have had an influence on native birds and lizards, particularly the skink. They kill most of their prey underground, and are normally discovered the place there are many mice, in gardens and close to buildings, relatively than in open paddocks.

Weasels haven’t tailored as simply to the New Zealand setting as ferrets and stoats as a result of there may be not the identical prey out there for them.

Extra Data

  • Ferret, stoat and weasel assets in our catalogue
  • Ferret, stoat and weasel Division of Conservation
  • Launched Animal Pests Te Ara
  • Our full record of New Zealand Birds and Animals

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