Archive for the ‘Mustelids’ Category


In late October 1999, my grandpa, also named Scottie Westfall, was out squirrel hunting. While staking out one of his favorite stands of hickory,  he heard brush cracking and a rabbit screaming.  Suddenly, a cottontail rabbit came running down a game trail. The rabbit stopped at little copse of brush, just a couple of yards from where my grandpa was staking out the squirrel trees.

Usually when one sees a rabbit running down a trail, something is pursuing it.

In this forest, the rabbits get pushed hard by the red and gray foxes, and the coyotes do take more than a few.

So my grandpa waited with his eyes trained on the trail from whence the rabbit came.

Just a few minutes later, something small and white came jumping along. It followed the rabbit’s trail perfectly and then went into the brush where the rabbit was.

The rabbit bolted before the creature could come near, and after white beast sniffed out the little copse of brush, it began to sniff around to see if it could pick up the rabbit’s trail again.  It soon did and started hunting again, and as it came along it happened to raise its head above a log.

Which created the perfect shot opportunity.

My grandpa shot the animal and realized it was some kind of weasel. However, it was quite a bit larger than the common least weasel that he knew so well, and what’s more, the weasel was almost entirely white.

My grandpa thought he knew all the animals of these woods pretty well. Weasels were the bane of the chicken coops when he was a boy, and he told me about trapping a few of them for their fur.

He also told me of how he illegally ferreted with an albino ferret, using him in groundhog dens and abandoned pipe to drive out cottontail rabbits that sought refuge from extreme cold or barking dogs.

But he’d never seen a white weasel before.

I vaguely knew that there were white weasels in the United States. I had read all about ermines and something called “Bonaparte’s weasel” that turned white in winter.

But teenage me just decided it was an ermine, and we left it at that.

He did a informal survey of all his hunting buddies, and none of them had ever heard of an ermine or a white weasel.

It’s been in the freezer ever since. I knew there was something odd about it.

I’ve written about it on the blog before.

I’ve come to the conclusion that it was a long-tailed weasel.

I don’t want to make this confusing, but in the Eastern US, there are two weasels that turn white in the winter. The ermine or short-tailed weasel is the one that Old World readers might know as a stoat. Most stoats from the British Isles don’t turn white in winter. This species is found throughout Eurasia and North America, but it has never been recorded in West Virginia. It comes only as far south as Pennsylvania. An old name for this weasel is Bonaparte’s weasel.

The long-tailed weasel is found in North and South America.  It does turn white in winter, but not all of them do. The Maryland/Pennsylvania border seems to be the geographical separation between weasels that turn white in winter and those that don’t. And in Pennsylvania and Ohio, not all weasels turn white.

Last week, I was contacted by a researcher from North Carolina State University, who is working on a study of snowshoe hares in the High Alleghenies. One of their research questions involved West Virginia’s long-tailed weasel population and their perennial brown pelage.

If you look up white weasels in West Virginia on Google, you wind up at my blog.

So I met with this researcher in Elkins, and it turns out that this weasel is a real weird one.

If you look at the logic of the two potential winter white weasel species I suggested, there are two main possibilities about what this animal could be.

It’s either an errant long-tailed weasel that doesn’t realize that just happens to have the genetics to turn white or it’s the first documented ermine in West Virginia.

I think the former is more likely.

But that’s not where it gets really bizarre. This weasel was not killed in the Allegheny Highlands, where the snow cover lasts the longest every year. It is certainly true that some of the higher elevation places in West Virginia are more like Maine or Eastern Canada, and one would think those places would be full of weasels that turn white in winter.

This weasel was killed in the Allegheny Plateau, and in the late 90’s, the winters were so mild that there was virtually no snow cover at all in this part of the state.

So why would a weasel turn white?

These woods where this weasel roamed are full of barred owls and red-tailed hawks that would love nothing more than have weasel to eat. A white weasel on the forest floor would just be advertising itself to the winged predators.

So this weasel raises many questions.

Soon, I’ll be setting out weasel gland lure with my trail camera to see if there are other weasels like this one in the area. Maybe there is an anomalous population of weasels in this part of West Virginia.

Or maybe this one was just a fluke.

Whatever it was, this weasel is a mystery. Some may give my late grandfather hell for shooting this weasel, but if he hadn’t shot it, we wouldn’t have this specimen, which might be the first record of a weasel molting to white in a population south of Pennsylvania.

Charles Darwin got into natural history as a recreational shooter. He traveled around the world on the Beagle killing unusual animals left and right.  He killed the South American fox species that bears his name with geological hammer.

If Hornaday had not killed the “big old ‘gator of Arch Creek,”  we wouldn’t have known that crocodiles lived in Florida.

My grandfather was pretty well-versed in natural history, and I think that if he were alive today, he would be impressed that this animal he killed while squirrel hunting would raise so many questions– and be such an anomaly.









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Domestication was long-thought to have universally dulled the intelligence of animals.

Wolves were thought to be significantly more intelligent than domestic dogs.

Usually, someone will start talking about an experiment where a researcher found that wolves easily learned to open a gate and malamutes never figured it out. This experiment is essential cannon in the wolf literature.

It’s actually not an experiment.

It actually comes from a claim by the wolf research Harry Frank, who had a malamute that never figured out how to open a particular door. However, a wolfdog he was working with did figure out how to do it, and that a wolf that was being raised with the hybrid figured it out after watching the hybrid do it once.

I’ve always doubted that this claim is indicative of the superiority of lupine intelligence for a very simple reason. When I first read of that account, I had two golden retrievers that were adept at opening door. They had learned how to do this through observation, just as the wolf had. Further, Miley also figured out how to do this behavior and had to be trained not to.

So are golden retrievers smarter than malamutes?

Anecdote really doesn’t help us in this endeavor.

Some researchers have tried to use brain size as evidence that domestic animals are less intelligent than their wild ancestors. Playing around with brain size in this matter is little more than glorified phrenology, and as I have written about on this blog, the claims about brain size and domestic dogs are actually somewhat misleading.

One of the problems with trying to examine these issues is that there is an implied romanticism in a lot of ethology. This implied romanticism sees domestication as distorted and debasing the wild stock from which domestic animals are derived. Bits of this sort of thinking can be found in Konrad Lorenz’s work. Lorenz was a Nazi scientist, and the Nazis– and, really, a large number of other German nationalist groups– saw modern civilization as something quite destructive to the German people. They longed for a time in which  their people could return to nature and thus return to their prior greatness.

Even though Nazi science has been discarded and researchers from a lot of national background have examined these issues, the tincture of the Nazi and Germanic nationalist origins in the foundations of a lot of this research has prevented an open examination of what domestication actually has meant.

We can think of domestication as outright enslavement.

But this is a childish view.

The truth is when the ancestors of modern dogs hooked up with humans, they became infinitely more successful than wolves would ever be.

And it’s only been in the past ten years or so that we’ve actually started to make comparisons of domestic and wild animal cognitive abilities.

What we’ve found is the notion that domestication means universal dulling is quite simplistic.  At Eotvos Lorand University in Budapest, there have been many studies that have compared the cognitive skills of wolves that have been raised by people and domestic dogs.  They have found that domestic dogs have certain cognitive abilities that even hand-reared wolves lack. They respond to human gestures in ways that wolves simply do not. Further, more research out of the Max Planck Institute Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig found that dogs were better at responding to gestures than even great apes.

These same findings have been discovered in the Belyaev tame foxes.

And similar cognitive skills been discovered in cats, domestic goats, and horses.

But none have done as well as dogs.

Until now.

Some researchers at Eotvos Lorand University compared the abilities of domestic ferrets, domestic dogs, and hybrids between wild mustelids and ferrets.  Domestic ferrets can hybridize with European polecats (their likely wild ancestor), the steppe polecat (another possible ancestors), the European mink (which is not a close relative of the American mink), and the Siberian weasel (which is actually found over a broad swathe of Asia, not just Siberia).   The researchers used specimens from all of these hybrids to represent a group of wild mustelids in the same way that wolves were used in the dog experiment. Like the wolves, these wild hybrids were socialized to people and were “tame.”

The researchers found that ferrets sought out and tolerated human contact in much the same way dogs did, and they were able to correctly go to the bowl of food containing the food through following human gestures.

And they could do as well as domestic dogs.

Now, this might make some sense.

Ferrets are the only other animal that has been domesticated to help humans hunt.

Ferreting is very similar to hunting with a flushing dog or a terrier.

The ferret goes where the quarry is and then it drives it out into a net or toward the gun.

And although people have tried to ferret with other species of mustelid, none has been as successful as the domestic ferret.

However, unlike dogs, ferrets were derived from solitary ancestors, not cooperative hunters.

But as they were domesticated to control rabbit and rat numbers, ferrets evolved some cognitive abilities that were similar to those of domestic dogs.  These abilities may have arisen solely from selection for tameness, as is implied through the abilities of the Belyaev foxes.

Or they could have origins in selection for a greater cooperative nature through domestication for those purposes.

We really don’t understand how dogs or other animals have evolved these cognitive skills.

Some people like to rush for the neoteny explanation at this point, but virtually everything written about neoteny and social cognition of domestic animals, great apes, and humans is unusually speculative and may actually be incapable of being falsified.

But the discovery that ferrets might be able to respond to human gestures as well as domestic dogs is really remarkable find.

It also shows us that ferrets are fully domesticated animals.

They shouldn’t be treated as exotics or invasive species.

The North American mainland has exactly zero (0) populations of feral domestic ferrets running about, even though ferrets have been here since colonial times.

We can’t say the same about feral cats, which are definitely destructive to native species.

So our understanding of domestication and its effect upon intelligence is much more complex than it once was.

And it’s not just dogs who have these abilities.

Ferrets may have them, too.



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From Stuff.co.nz:

The doors whip open and out they waddle, plunging into the rapids to test paddling skills before floating downstream to feed.

It is home time for eight whio, or blue ducks, more than three months after they were removed from their river-edge nests as eggs to be reared in Christchurch.

The nationally endangered species gets a helping hand around New Zealand, with efforts focused on eight “security sites”.

Yesterday was the fourth release of juvenile ducks at one of the West Coast sites – the Styx-Arahura-Taipo valleys near Hokitika – since the whio Operation Nest Egg project began there in 2006.

Intensive stoat trapping started in the area eight years ago to protect dwindling numbers of the rare waterfowl species, which prefers life in swift mountain streams and is endemic to New Zealand, with no close relative worldwide.

By 2004, only three breeding pairs remained in the Styx Valley, but the Solid Energy-sponsored project helped increase that to eight breeding pairs.

In September and October, eggs from two whio nests were removed from beside Doctor Creek, a Hokitika River tributary, helicoptered out of the mountains and driven by car to Christchurch to be incubated and reared at Peacock Springs Wildlife Park in Christchurch.

Curator Anne Richardson reared her demanding brood in enclosures over fast-flowing springs to ensure they developed good skills.

Yesterday, Press photographer Dave Hallett was thrilled to have the privilege of transporting the eight whio back to the West Coast.

“I’ve never driven that carefully in all my life,” he said.

“I was completely chuffed that the Department of Conservation had that much faith in me.”

Hallett, a bird enthusiast, followed the distinctive slate-blue birds from nest to release to document their progress, including capturing the surprising moment when one duckling hatched in Richardson’s hand only minutes after arrival at Peacock Springs.

Two of yesterday’s eight ducks, a pair, were freed near Greymouth, at the Moonlight Valley, to aid the Paparoa Wildlife Trust’s whio project.

The remaining six – three female and three male – were flown to the Styx Valley, a neighbouring valley to their birthplace.

Once common throughout New Zealand, now only about 2000 blue ducks remain, with the numbers of breeding pairs almost evenly split between the North and South islands.

The Conservation Department’s Hokitika biodiversity programme manager, Dave Eastwood, is “quietly optimistic” about the whio’s future, but also has fears.

“Rats and stoats are out of control. Even with trapping, they keep migrating into areas.”

New Zealand’s wildlife evolved without land-based mammalian predators.  New Zealand has native birds of prey, but it never had cats or mongooses or weasels or dogs or even rats running about until relatively recently.

New Zealand’s ground nesting birds, like these blue ducks, never evolved good nest hiding behavior, which makes them quite vulnerable to predators.

European rabbits and hares were introduced to New Zealand as game animals, and because they also did not suffer from any land-based predators, their population exploded.

Stoats were introduced to control the number of rabbits and hares, but that’s kind of like releasing lions into high crime areas to control gangs. Yeah, the lions will control the gangs a bit, but gangs are armed. The lions are much more likely to attack people who have nothing to do with the gangs.

The rabbits and hares in New Zealand descended from ancestors who had long suffered stoat predation and had evolved defenses against them. The stoats do kill some hares and rabbits, but not enough to significantly reduce their numbers.

However, the stoats do a much better job killing these native New Zealand birds, which evolved without any sort of land-based predators. They have virtually no defenses against them.

I don’t know how long these New Zealand conservationists can keep the stoats at bay.  They are going to have to be constantly trapping them in order to keep them under control.

And they aren’t going to trap all of them. Stoats are carnivorans and are quite intelligent animals. Some are craftier than others. These crafty ones will avoid traps, and they will pass on their craftiness to their offspring– both in terms of their genetics and what the mothers teach their young.

Eventually, the only stoats that are going to be in that region are those that are really trap-wise, and then I don’t know what they will do to control them.

It may be a losing battle in the end.

But it is worth the fight.

Because it’s the only option.

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One can see the black tipped tail on this side.

It was snowing when I took this photos this morning. Those white flakes are actual snow flakes.

This animal is a long-tailed weasel (Mustela frenata), which is native from southern Canada to Bolivia. It is larger than the ermine or stoat (Mustela erminea), which also turns white in winter in North America, and much larger than the least weasel (Mustela nivalis). In West Virginia, we have only least and long-tailed weasels, but other parts of North America have all three species. Least weasels and stoats are found throughout Eurasia, but the long-tailed weasel is found only in the Americas.

Only northern North American populations of long-tailed weasel turn white in winter.

This particular specimen was killed by my grandfather, who passed away in this past August. He was squirrel hunting in late October.  While he was stalking a gray squirrel den tree, he happened to catch sight of a cottontail rabbit running hard and fast. The rabbit ran past him and dove into a copse of heavy brush.  A few minutes later, a white thing started moving along. It was tracking the rabbit’s trail.

My grandpa had no idea what he was looking at, so he did what just about anyone from West Virginia would do if he came across an animal in the woods that he couldn’t identify.

He waited until the white thing crossed a long that the rabbit jumped over. As soon as it raised its head over the log, he blasted it with his shotgun.

He brought it home for me to identify, but I was confused as to what it really was. I didn’t know that long-tailed weasels would turn white in the winter in this part of the country.

The fur on the back is still chocolate brown.

The initial plan was to have it sent to a taxidermist, but no one got around to it.

It’s been the freezer weasel for all these years.

A close up of the head. Dollar bill for scale.

So this is the famed freezer weasel I’ve written about.

It’s taken me this long to put up on the blog, but here it is.

The snow flakes have an added effect, don’t they?

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Long-tailed weasels in the Southwest and California have masks. The ones around here do not.

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From Mongabay.com:

A new species of omnivorous mammal has been found in Cuc Phuong National Park, Vietnam. A part of the weasel family, the new species is known as a ferret-badger, a strange subfamily of mammals that have been little-studied by researchers. Smaller than proper badgers, ferret-badgers have elongated faces and long bushy tails.

Described in Der Zoologische Garten, researchers named the new species after its place-of-origin: the Cuc Phuong ferret-badger (Melogale cucphuogensis). The new mammal was first discovered in 2005 after rangers found it wounded from a snare. A vet with the Endangered Primate Rescue Center amputated the animal’s leg to save it, but unfortunately the wild animal accidently strangled-itself in a cage wire. Its body was not preserved. Then in 2006, a recently dead individual was discovered, allowing researchers to describe it. The new species is the fifth ferret badger known and inhabits an area also home to two others: the Chinese ferret-badger (Melogale moschata) and the Burmese ferret-badger (Melogale personata).

“Hardly any information on their biology and ecology is available,” the authors write. “There is even less information available about their habitat requirements or ecological niches, and therefore coexistence and/or competition of these species.”

The IUCN Red List has only been able to evaluate the Chinese ferret-badger (listed as Least Concern), while the others are considered Data Deficient. The Chinese ferret-badger has been the most researched. It is nocturnal and spends much of its time underground. It feeds on a wide-range of prey including earthworms, insects, molluscs, frogs, carrion, eggs, and even fruit.

While the discovery of new species is not uncommon—researchers documented over 18,225 new species in 2008 alone—finding new mammals is rare. In 2008, only 41 new species discovered were mammals (less than half a percent). Finding a new non-rodent mammal is even more astounding: a third of the new mammals recorded were rodents in 2008.

Ferret-badgers are quite poorly studied.

They are native to Asia, and the Chinese species, which is the most common and widespread, looks like a bizarre hybrid between a ferret and a badger.

It does not surprise me that the Cuc Phuong ferret-badger was discovered in a poacher’s snare.

In this part of the world, the illegal wildlife trade is rampant.  The Chinese market for various animals continues to grow, and there is very little that the Southeast Asian governments are doing to control this trade. Considering all the other problems these countries face, wildlife smuggling isn’t a top priority.

That’s not to say they aren’t doing anything, but they are doing less than countries like the United States or Australia would do.

My guess is most of the newly documented species in the order Carnivora are going be mustelids, mongooses, procyonids. skunks. and civets.  One can find species of these animals that are small enough to remain hidden for centuries and that may have only a very narrow regional distribution.

You won’t likely find another species of lion or wolf, simply because the behavior and natural history of these animals doesn’t lend itself toward speciation.

Lions and wolves are much more mobile than something like a ferret badger.  As a result, they have been quite widespread, and virtually none of the populations have been isolated. Young male lions disperse from their natal prides upon reaching sexual maturity, and young wolves normally leave their natal packs by the time they are two years old. Both lions and wolves that leave their family groups and travel great distances from their parents. This means that the whole population is in a constant state of gene flow. Without any mechanism to isolate populations, this continuous gene flow prevents any one regional population from becoming distinct enough enough to become its own species.

These ferret-badgers evolved in Asia. The Chinese species lives in a variety of habitats, but the others live in tropical forests. Tropical forests often provide different niches for different populations of related organisms, and these animals fill these niches. The gene flow stops, and they become separate species.

Further, ferret-badgers may have experienced periods of total isolation from each other. With no gene flow between the populations, they have lost their ability to reproduce with each other, and when they suddenly wind up living in the same habitat, they are separate species that have lost chemical interfertility.

Little animals that can’t disperse over vast distances, and this increases the likelihood that these animals have unique subpopulations that have evolved into distinct species.

So if you’re looking for new species of Carnivoran, think small.


Yes. I’m aware that the Malagasy carnivorans have their own family now, as does the African palm civet. The red panda has its own family, too.

But for me to write all of those names out is a pain, because I then have to explain why they have their own families. So bear with me.

Oh, yeah, in case you hadn’t heard, skunks are in their own family. They aren’t mustelids anymore. The skunks of the Americas now share a family with the so-called stink badgers of Indonesia and the Philippines.  This family is now called Mephitidae.



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Tarka the Otter is one of the best nature films ever made. It is essentially an animal biopic that uses actual footage of wild otters in the English county of Devon. Gerald Durrell wrote the screenplay, but it includes a lot of unscripted natural otter behavior– which really makes the film work. Gerald Durrell was, of course, the noted naturalist, author, conservationist, and zookeeper who founded the Jersey Zoo, which became rather well-known for breeding endangered species. The zoo is now called the Durrell Wildlife Conservation Trust. This film really sticks to letting the otters be otters– as well as incorporating the natural behavior of other species as they deal with challenges from nature, men, and dogs.

And  although Gerald Durrell  and others associated with the film were certainly beyond reproach, it should be noted that this film based upon a novel by Henry Williamson, whose skill as a nature writer was unfortunately tainted by his unorthodox and quite controversial political views.  He was a veteran of the First World War, who was able to find himself again in the English countryside, first in Devon and then at a farm in Norfolk.  He became deeply upset that the United Kingdom and the German Empire had been at war and spent much of his energy campaigning against another war with the Germans. Unfortunately, this propert distaste for war clouded his judgment, and he came to admire Adolf Hitler and National Socialism, even joining Oswald Mosley’s British Union of Fascists. He never quite changed his mind about Hitler, even when the Third Reich’s crimes became well-known.

Despite this little aside, which I felt needed to be mentioned, the film is truly remarkable.

It is more like an historical narrative about a Eurasian otter that lives in Devon in 1920’s. Many of the threats that Tarka faces in the film are currently illegal in Britain. He has to worry about otterhounds chasing him, but pack-hunting with hounds is currently banned. Otters are currently a protected species, so no gamekeeper in England can legally shoot otters to protect salmon, which was what happened to Tarka’s mother.  Futher, steel leghold traps are banned throughout the country, so no otter, fox, or other predator has to worry about being snared as happened to Tarka when he tried to break into the duck coop.

The ceremony and tradition of the otter hunt at the end is also worth noting. There is a strong sense of sportsmanship with the otter hunters, who, ironically, are the only people who actively support the existence of otters in British rivers in the 1920’s. The hunters give Tarka a headstart when tears off down the shallow river– and the hounds obey the whip. The whip is the person who keeps the hounds in line, which is also where we get that same title in congress and in state legislature. Just as the whip keeps all the hounds in line, the party whips in the legislative bodies keep the party members on the party line as best as possible.

The physical endurance of the otterhounds is also on display in the film. They have to be able to run hard up and down shallow rivers and then run long and hard across the countryside. They also have to be very strong swimmers, and they have to be tough enough to put up with an aggressive otter, which has very sharp teeth– you have to have them to catch slippery fish– and is much more maneuverable in the water.

The otterhounds have to be almost like a combination of big game hounds and retrievers. They must have all the traits of a big game hound– good nose, good voice, and very high levels of endurance– and they must be as at home in the water as any retriever or water spaniel. The also have to be fairly hard dogs when they catch their prey, and as we see in the final scene, otters are not the easiest prey for a even a large dog to catch.

A terrier is used to bolt Tarka from a holt. That’s about all a terrier could ever be used for, and as one observes, the terriers follow the hunt. They are used only when the quarry goes to ground.  A terrier would have a very hard time killing an otter–unless we’re talking about using Airedales, which are partially derived from otterhounds.

Now, we all knew that otterhounds were used to trail otters and catch them on the run, and we knew that terriers were used to drive them from their holts.

However, the gamekeeper who kills Tarka’s mother has a Labrador at his heels.  The film doesn’t show it, but one assumes that the Labrador retrieved the otter after she was killed. Many gamekeepers and rustic sportsmen types used retrievers to hunt otters, even though not all retrievers have the courage to hunt an otter.  In the Dutch province of Friesland, a dog similar to the retrievers is the wetterhoun, which is sometimes called an “otterhoun.” Yes, the dogs, which can retrieve shot birds, are also used to hunt otters. And as a result, they are more independent and pluckier than the British retrievers.

This film is part natural history and part human history. The nature cinematography is quite elegant, and the director is able to bring out the characters of the various woodland creatures in a way that allows the audience to relate to them. However, the film still allows the animal to hold onto its basic animality. Tarka is not a human in otter clothing, but he is not the creature that would be portrayed in a natural history film.  In those portrayals, the wild creature is presented in a detached manner. Its instincts and life cycle are described; the implications of its individuality are ignored.  Such portrayals have their place, of course, but with a creature as intelligent as an otter, it might not truly capture its essence. Those portrayals merely catch its shadows. This film is able to present the otter as a being of the river and sea– a creature that is not human but not solely driven by instinct and its own evolutionary history.

And in the skill in which this film is able to present the Eurasian otter in this fashion, it truly shows its greatness. I saw this many years ago as a child, but watching it now– with all my supposedly adult sensibilities– I now see this film in a different light. I don’t know what the impact of this film was in the United Kingdom, but it makes me feel for the otter in the same way that Farley Mowat made me feel about wolves after watching Never Cry Wolf. It is well-established that Mowat’s work changed the way people all over the world felt about wolves– even if the film and novel are largely fiction.

I know that the wolf has had a better go of it since Mowat’s work ventured into the population, but I am also aware that the Eurasian otter is also on the rebound. It was recently determined that every county in England now has an otter population. Although this film implies that hunting and persecution are the main cause for the otter’s demise in the British Isle, pollution also played an important role in destroying otter populations. Williamson lived before we began to understand that pollution was an important issue. He could see only man’s desire to kill them to protect salmon rivers and trout streams as the main culprit for their demise. Otter hunting could easily be banned in the United Kingdom, but coming up with ways to make the rivers, streams, and coastal waters more pristine requires more thought and more long-term planning. I don’t know if this film had any effect on bringing about the policies that allowed the British otter to rebound, but it certainly wouldn’t have hurt.


I am intentionally not embedding the video of the film, which is currently available on Youtube. I don’t think it will stay up for very long, so I am going link to it in the text at several places.  I am closing this post by telling you that this film is worth your time, and here is a final link to Tarka the Otter.

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"Don't cull me. I'm cute!"

From the BBC:

A majority of Britons in both town and country oppose killing badgers to curb cattle tuberculosis, an opinion poll for the BBC suggests.

Across the UK, about two-thirds oppose the measure, with majorities against culling in every age group, every region and across both genders.

The coalition has pledged to introduce culling in England, but recently admitted it may not happen.

And separate plans in Wales are on hold following the recent election.

Badgers can carry the bacterium that causes TB and transmit the disease to cattle herds.

The poll, commissioned by the BBC News website from pollsters GfK NOP, is believed to be the first time that the UK public has been asked a simple “yes or no” on the issue.

Across the country, 63% of the thousand adults polled by phone said badgers should not be killed for cattle TB, with 31% in favour of culling and the remainder undecided.

The proportion opposed was virtually identical in urban and rural areas.

Jack Reedy of the Badger Trust, which is leading opposition to a cull, described the result as “heartening”.

But, he suggested, decisions should ultimately be made on the basis of science.

The government’s commitment to look at introducing a carefully managed and science-led policy of badger control… is the only light at the end of a very dark tunnel.”

“This is an opinion expressed by a lot of people, so that’s valuable,” he told BBC News.

“However, we have to attend to the science, and that should not be a political argument – although a political argument has been imposed.

“If [politicians] do pay more attention, prompted by this poll result, I hope it will lead to a more balanced, sensible outcome that’s fair on badgers, fair on farmers and fair on the general public as well.”

But Peter Kendall, president of the National Farmers Union (NFU), said bovine TB was “out of control” in some areas and had to be stopped.

“In 1998 almost 6,000 cattle were slaughtered to control the disease, and in the UK in 2010, 32,737 animals were slaughtered,” he said.

“For farmers, the government’s commitment to look at introducing a carefully managed and science-led policy of badger control, as part of a package of measures, in areas where there is high and persistent levels of bovine TB, is the only light at the end of a very dark tunnel.”

Government statistics show that the incidence of cattle TB declined slightly between 2009 and 2010, probably due to the escalation of TB testing on farms and restrictions on herd movements.

However, provisional figures indicate that incidence was slightly higher in the first two months of this year than in the corresponding period for 2010.

The participants in the BBC/GfK NOP poll were asked whether they lived in a rural, urban or mixed setting.

Measures such as screening are reducing TB incidence, but are unlikely to eliminate it

In urban areas, 57% said they opposed the cull, with 33% in favour and the remainder undecided; in rural areas, the majority was 59% to 37%.

Those living in a mixed urban/rural setting showed the strongest opposition, with 68% against killing badgers and just 26% in favour.

Bovine TB costs the UK economy about £100m per year, and has blighted farmers in areas such as southwest England.

But here, as in every other UK region, a majority of people in the BBC poll opposed culling.

The European badger (Meles meles) is a protected species under European and UK law, but ministers can sanction killing in certain circumstances, including to tackle disease.

Last year, Agriculture Minister Jim Paice announced government proposals that would allow farmers in England to organise shooting of badgers on their lands.

Applicants would have to satisfy a number of conditions, including:

  • the area must total at least 150 sq km
  • there must be “high and persistent” levels of TB in cattle
  • the group can show it can access at least 70% of the land in the area
  • the group must commit to culling at least once per year for four years

Licensees would be allowed to trap the animals in cages and shoot them, or just shoot them as they roam – so-called “free shooting”.

The previous Welsh Assembly Government proposed a different system for South Pembrokeshire, with contractors employed by the government to trap and shoot the animals.

Following May’s election, the Welsh government is reviewing these plans and is likely to announce a new policy soon.

Mr Paice, meanwhile, has recently said badger culling in England may not be possible because the government may not be able to build a scientific case that could survive a legal challenge.

A particular concern is thought to be that the efficacy of free shooting has never been tested in a scientific study.

A spokesman for the Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) told BBC News that the “devastating” disease of bovine TB needed tackling.

“However, there are a range of factors we need to consider in making a decision on badger control, including public opinion, scientific evidence, animal health and the impact on farming communities,” he said.

The results of this poll don’t surprise me all that much.

I remember watching a documentary about British people feeding the local badgers. Some people were spending vast sums just so they could have the badgers come by at night.

Badgers are also the largest terrestrial carnivoran native to the British Isles.

It is the British equivalent of the kodiak bear.

As animals go, it is relatively innocuous. And unlike our badger, it is social and relatively placid.

It is a cute animal that cause a the majority of the public little trouble, and it is one that can be tolled up to the back door– where you and your family can watch its every move!

I don’t see how the British government or its devolved parliaments can get away with implementing this policy.

The TB is a problem, but very often, the needs of wildlife management conflict with the desires of the public.

Now, governments should not base all wildlife management decisions upon majority opinion. It can be disastrous.

I just don’t see how a badger cull can ever be politically possible in the United Kingdom– particularly when there are no discernible town and country rifts as there is on the fox hunting issue.

This is a complex issue, and one that has to be made with the balancing of a lot of different factors.

Which makes this whole thing tricky.

How can a government encourage the culling of something so cute, just to promote cattle husbandry?

And what if even the rural public opposes killing this animal?

It’s a very tricky situation for cull proponents.






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