In defence of Mustelids

minnow at belfry.org.uk minnow at belfry.org.uk
Mon Jul 7 17:36:15 EDT 2003


Kylie wrote

>> Not liking the Mustelidae in general (Badger and Otter
>> excepted) is a very
>> reasonable thing for any country-dweller, anyhow, without any
>> stuff about
>> them representing the working classes.
>Well maybe stoats and weasels but ferrets are a useful working animal.

Not when they're feral, though.  They only get mentioned twice in WitW, I
think, and that somewhat in passing, so maybe KG too felt they were a
better class of person than stoats and weasels.  :-)

>They are smelly, vicious,
>> unreasonable creatures with sharp teeth, in the main, and
>> have a reputation
>> (which they absolutely deserve) for going into a mindless
>> killing frenzy
>> when they have once shed blood and smelt it.
>Not the mustelids that I know and love.  They are fat, cuddly, lazy and
>cute.  But smelly.  I admit the smelly.

It would be hard to deny the smelly!  Coming downstairs in the fresh early
morning air into the room the ferrets lived in used to fair put me off my
breakfast, back when...  But I don't suppose your ferrets live free-range
in the kitchen for the warmth of the Aga at night, do they?

>Okay, so that's just the ferrets I have, but I have come across so much
>ignorance when it comes to ferrets that I'd bet stoats and weasels have
>been tarred with the same brush.  The David Attenborough documentary I saw
>on stoats made them out to be rather nice animals.  Of course if you just
>had one go through your chook yard you may not feel the same way...

I once stood for about five minutes wuth my right foot resting on a
waist-high worksurface, with a ferret fixed by his teeth to the ankle of my
boot.  He hung there clear of the floor telling me what he thought about
life -- chittering through clenched teeth, I suppose.  I don't expect I'll
ever know what had upset him: I had been sitting having breakfast, reading
the paper, and I don't think I had moved my feet before he pounced.  And
*he* was a *friend* of mine!

The operative word in all yer text-book studies is a "semi-tame" animal.

'Tidden just chooks; stoat'll take a yard of turkeys down in a night, far
more than they could possibly eat.  (At that point they are killing for
sport not for food, so .... well, they don't have guns except in WitW, so
it's all right, I guess.)

>The only portrayal of mustelids I have seen in literature stereotypes them
>in the ways that you have just listed.  Okay, so maybe the wild ones are
>killers, but they are carnivores, they have to eat.

As with foxes, it isn't so much the killing for food that leads to the
fury, it's the killing and leaving the corpses lying around that raises the
blood-pressure.  Not that I could ever bring myself to be *fond* of hens --
beastly birds, really -- but it does seem rather wanton.  And why do they
always seem to get the best layers?  Never the broody old nuisances or the
ones you were about to cull anyhow....

>Ferrets certainly don't deserve to be the villains every time.  Apparently
>the only mustelids that appear in Brian Jacques' Redwall series are
>stereotyped much as the Wind in the Willows ones are.  I guess if you are
>a writer and you need animal villains it is just easy to go with the
>stereotypes...

Foxes get bad press too, and they make about the same mess of a hen-run
once they get in and if they aren't disturbed and driven off; but they
don't hunt in packs, so they don't make a good army or gang, which is what
KG wanted for his plot.  I have never encountered a pack of stoats changing
their territory, but I was told by someone who had that it is a frightening
experience.  And there's the way a weasel will try to "charm" the birds out
of the trees, sort of mesmerise them: that's somehow a bit creepy.  That
one isn't a myth: I have seen it done.

Suggest an alternative carnivorous British native animal that runs in
packs?  I can't think of one off-hand: in KG's time they hadn't yet thought
of re-introducing wolves even in Scotland, and certainly not into the
Thames valley!

>> (I think I prefer the idea of a sudden shot and death to the
>> idea of slow
>> death in a trap or having a ferret introduced into the warren
>> to slaughter
>> the rabbits underground;
>This is another common misunderstanding about what ferrets do.  They
>aren't introduced to slaughter the rabbits, they are introduced to chase
>the rabbits out of the burrow.  If they kill and eat the rabbits you are
>left with nothing for the pot and a ferret that has a nice full tummy and
>has gone to sleep in very inaccessible underground place.

Er, yes.  The latter pretty-much sums it up....  :-)  Depends on the
ferret, but I don't think the ones I knew were inclined to share their grub
with the rest of us if they had the choice, and coercing 'em once they were
out of hand and underground wasn't the easiest thing in the world.  They
came out in the end though.  Eventually.  Very eventually.  One would never
know how many they had killed, so maybe they only killed and ate the one
each, but I am not convinced by that, not really.  I may be doing them a
horrid injustice... but...

>I'm not sure how the rabbits are actually killed as the only time I tried
>working my ferrets I wimped out and let the rabbits go.

Dopped on the back of the neck with the edge of your hand is the usual
method.  But anything quick will do.  And you net the runs first, of
course.

Actually to be fair the rabbits would bolt out whether the ferret were
killing them or not, so whether they follow training or they don't, ferrets
still do the job.

Kylie, I apologise to your ferrets if I have insulted them; I agree there's
a difference between tame (or semi-tame) friends of the family, and stoats
and weasels in the wild.  I ought to have made it clearer that I was
referring to the wild stoat and weasel (and also the polecat, which may be
the most unfriendly of the lot, I think), not to the tame ferret, for whom
I have a cartain fondness even if they do smell appalling.  (Same way I am
fond of rats when they're civilised, and if they want to sit on my shoulder
and pick my teeth looking for bits of carrot that's fine by me, but I
really am not very happy to have an uninvited rattus norvegicus living
under the garden shed!  And however much I may admire and enjoy the company
of a boa constrictor, I still don't want to meet one I don't know and when
I'm not expecting it.)

>Taking this on topic, it would be interested to see what DWJ did with
>ferrets in a book.  If she had all the facts on them :)

Wouldn't they be likely to be a trifle de-natured, in fantasy of her kind?
But you could always try to sell her on the idea, come September.  :-)
I'll back you up.

Minnow


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