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The Much Maligned Ferret... Unveiled
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The Much Maligned Ferret... Unveiled

When I was a child my friend's father used to keep ferrets. He would turn up outside the school gates each day with a large, heavy coat on, regardless of the weather. And then as we all assembled round him he would produce from one of his many pockets a sinuous creature that gazed with unblinking, careful eyes into our pale, staring faces.We were caught halfway between awe and terror. This creature with his robber's mask marking was the stuff of fiction. Ferrets, we knew from our story books as well as common folk law, were bloodthirsty creatures that ripped the throats from their victims... and yet... here was this man allowing this nightmare creature to explore up his coat sleeves, along the back of his neck and even down his trousers from whence it would appear at the bottom, hesitate for a second, to sniff eagerly at the ground, before running back up the outside of his leg, to nestle once more in his pocket. For years I simply could not understand this. How he wasn't bitten or attacked I couldn't begin to decipher. Perhaps it was a special ferret, a ferret amongst ferrets, was my only thought to offer an explanation.It would seem that I was not alone. Even today when you mention the word ferret to a person they will, most likely, instinctively, shudder. Like me, all those years ago, they think of a vicious creature that cannot be trusted. Not something they'd want to meet in a dark alley is how one acquaintance put it to me recently. But how true are our perceptions? Is the ferret an animal we can love, would it love us back? Or is it truly an unpleasant character best left alone? And that ferret of yesteryear - was it truly a ferret amongst ferrets? Let's look at the facts.

History and Background

Ferrets are members of the Mustelid family. Amongst their cousins they can boast, weasels, polecats, stoats, mink, martens, badgers and otters. Which, if considered solely, reads a bit like a police line-up and yes, you may be forgiven for wondering a little about their character. More directly however ferrets are related to the European or Steppe Polecat. In themselves they are the domesticated version.Their original purpose was to be worked to control vermin. And it is thought that they were kept as hunting partners as far back as the time of the Ancient Egyptians - over 3000 years ago. When they first arrived in Great Britain is not altogether clear but one theory is that they were introduced with the advent of the Romans, which incidentally would make them inhabitants of this country for the past 2000 years. That's a long time to labour under such a wealth of criticism.

The Mustelid Family

Like a lot of families the Mustelid family has the odd skeleton or two hanging in the cupboard - well you read the line -up, it's no more than you might expect. And this alongside the many hunting partnerships of the past and the present is in part why we perceive the ferret as we do. But it's unfair to judge a book by its cover as they say and so if we can put this aside for a moment and look a little closer we may be surprised at what is revealed. Because on closer inspection we will find that they are also lively, intelligent, fun loving animals with a highly developed sense of curiosity. And with special regard to the ferret, we will also discover that they are actually very affectionate creatures, who will bond closely with their human carer.So in answer to my earlier question - was that ferret at school gates, different to other ferrets? The answer is no, he was one of many.And if I were asked today if this particular animal makes for a good pet I would say yes. Treat it right, understand its needs and it will make a very good pet indeed.

Could you own a ferret?

The ferret, in many ways, is not a demanding pet but one thing it does require is a very specific diet. Food should be high in protein and low in fibre. Some people like to feed fresh, raw meat but there are some very good commercial foods on the market if this is not to your taste. Your veterinary will point you in right direction here. As well as this they need a constant supply of fresh, clean water.Bear in mind too that the ferret is relatively long-lived, coming anywhere between six and ten years; they are no light commitment. There is also the question of holidays - they are not always as easy to place as a cat or dog.If after reading this (and as much more information as you can) you decide to go ahead and buy, then your next task is to set about the arduous of choosing!

SOME COMMON FERRET COLOURS

  • Fitch - this is the name for a ferret that has polecat markings or the more traditionally named Robber's Mask markings.
  • Silver - actually this ferret is closer to grey but it has white marking on its chest and sometimes feet as well. This is one of the less common types.
  • Albino - this is also known as the English ferret. Today this ferret is still used widely in hunting circles as its coat has a greater contrast in hedgerows and therefore makes it easier to track. The true albino has a white coat and red eyes.
  • Sandy - Varies from light brown to a deep golden - it often has similar deeper markings to that of the Fitch.
  • Dew - a pure white coat but unlike the albino eyes are either black or dark ruby in colour.

Hob or Jill

Unlike us humans, there is very little difference between the sexes. Hobs can be larger but not necessarily so. Jill's are occasionally seen as being more placid or even lazy. Yet on the other hand are described as daintier and of moving like quicksilver, with a beautiful rapid flow. If you are looking for difference then you may do better to get to know your intended pet a little better. Ferrets have quite distinct personalities and in this way you will make your final choice.

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