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real ferret facts ...

* There are no documented cases of any domesticated ferret (Mustela putorius furo) surviving in the wild anywhere in Australia. Ever.

* Ferrets (Mustela putorius furo) are a domesticated version of the European Polecat (Mustela putorius) in much the same way Poodles (Canis lupus familiaris) are a domesticated version of the Wolf (Canis lupus).

* Rabies is not present in Australia

* Australia has been declared free of Bovine TB since 1992. It can also be transmitted by many other animals, including Australian natives. *1

* Domesticated Ferrets (Mustela putorius furo) are the 3rd most popular companion pet in the U.S.A

* Ferrets are very different from wild European Polecats. They have been domesticated for thousands of years, and have lost the ability to survive without help from humans. They are also social animals, compared to Polecats which are solitary by nature. Most pet ferrets are fed a diet very different to that of a wild Polecat, and due to olfactory imprinting, they would not recognise a live animal as food.

* Ferrets cannot sweat, and hence suffer from heatstroke in high temperatures.

* Domesticated Ferrets (Mustela putorius furo) are the only member of the mustelid family permitted in Australia. They can be kept as household pets in all states and territories except Queensland and the Northern Territory.

New Zealand - Ferret Facts

The Queensland Department of Natural Resources., Mines and Energy (NRME.) refers to the New Zealand feral ferret problem as one of the reason ferrets are illegal in Qld.

The following are facts regarding the New Zealand issue :

By the mid 1870s, rabbits were becoming a serious agricultural pest in New Zealand. Farmers demanded that the natural enemies of the rabbit (mustelids) be introduced. Despite the protests of bird experts, ferrets, stoats and weasels were released throughout pastoral areas and by the mid 1890s they had spread into forests west of Lake Manapouri. Far too late, after many official protests, the government changed its policy on mustelids in 1903. However, it was not until 1936 that all legal protection for mustelids was removed.
New Zealand Government - Dept Conservation – Animal Pests.

Is there is any guarantee that of all the ferrets released into pastoral areas; some were not polecats or Ferret-Polecat Hybrids?


Farming of ferrets was made legal in New Zealand in 1985. In 1986, there were over 100 registered fitch farms together exporting 80,000 skins. Fitch is the name given to farmed ferrets. The first farms were stocked from ferrets captured from the wild but later farms were stocked mainly from imported animals from Scotland and Finland. When the export industry crashed a few years later most farms shut down and many ferrets escaped or were released into the wild.
It is thought that escapes and releases from ferret farms in the Northland Region contributed to the rapid establishment of ferrets in the area, which had previously been ferret free, resulting in a sudden decline in kiwi numbers at several reserves. Ferrets are now distributed throughout the North and South Islands, generally being more abundant in areas of high rabbit densities. Ferrets are not present on Stewart Island or any offshore islands and it is illegal to take them there.
The only export market at present is for live animals for the pet trade in South East Asia. There are only two large ferret farms still in operation in New Zealand, although other smaller premises have “farm” licences which allow them to breed ferrets for sale.
What Can We Do About Ferrets – Public Discussion Document –NZ Department of Conservation

Is there is any guarantee if these farms were mainly stocked from Scotland and Finland, these ferrets were not polecat-ferret hybrids?


The regulations which allow ferret farming also allow up to three non-breeding ferrets to be kept without the need for a licence. This enables people to keep ferrets as pets. The popularity of keeping ferrets as pets has increased rapidly in recent years and it is estimated that there may now be as many as three to four hundred people who keep pet ferrets, mainly in the North Island.
A licence from the Department of Conservation is required to farm, breed or sell ferrets. However, the rapid rise in popularity of pet ferrets has led to many unlicensed pet shops selling ferrets and there is anecdotal evidence of people breeding ferrets for sale without the necessary licence.
What Can We Do About Ferrets – Public Discussion Document –NZ Department of Conservation

Ferret Breeding and Sales Banned, March 2002 Announcement –NZ Department of Conservation - Whats-New

I have announced the sale, distribution and breeding of ferrets is to be banned. The Chief Technical Officer is declaring them unwanted organisms under the Biosecurity Act. Existing pets and farms will be exempt. However, pet owners will be unable to sell, breed, display, release or give away their ferrets. The declaration will come into effect when the Biosecurity Amendment Bill 2001 is passed into legislation.
As a result, the Chief Technical Officer has decided to declare them unwanted organisms under the Biosecurity Act. When implemented, this will prohibit the selling or breeding of pet ferrets. The declaration acknowledges the attachment current owners have for their existing pets. But when these same animals reach the end of their life, they cannot be replaced. The handful of existing ferret farms, which largely export to the overseas market, will be excluded from implications of the unwanted organism status via exemptions from the Department’s Chief Technical Officer. - Sandra Lee Minister of Conservation

Regulations under the Wildlife Act allow people to keep up to three ferrets as pets without a licence. People with three or more pet ferrets must make adequate safeguards (as determined by the Director-General of Conservation) to keep the animals captive and to minimise the chance of escapes. Ferrets are not permitted on offshore islands. The regulations were introduced in 1985 to allow farming of ferrets for the potentially lucrative European fur market. A significant market existed for a few years only and prior to 1985 breeding ferrets was banned.

The declaration will make it illegal to breed or sell ferrets within New Zealand. When the declaration comes into effect:
Owners of pet ferrets can keep the pet ferrets they currently own as existing arrangements are exempted. Pet ferret owners, however, will not be able to sell, breed, buy new ferrets or give them away.
Pet shop owners will no longer be able to buy and sell ferrets. They have until the declaration comes into effect to clear current ferret stock.
Current ferret farm owners will be exempted from the ban on ferrets. Farms will no longer be able to sell the ferrets domestically. The majority of their ferrets are sold overseas.

Further reading: Exotic Pets - Ferrets Ban in New Zealand

Ferrets continue to survive in New Zealand due to abundant prey, lack of natural predators and a vastly different climate to that of Queensland. The mean yearly air temperature in New Zealand is 11.5°C compared to that of Qld at 22.3°C
Based on data provided by the NZ Dept. of Meteorology & the QLD Dept. of Meteorology

Today there are still two ferret farms in existnace in New Zealand, which breed ferrets for export.

The QFWS do not believe there is any validity in comparing Queensland with New Zealand. Would it not be better to compare Qld to neighbouring states of NSW and South Australia, where ferrets are legal as pets, as they do not have a feral ferret problem.

1. "The Tuberculosis Freedom Assurance Program (TFAP) was a five-year surveillance program to ensure that any resurgence of tuberculosis in Australian cattle was promptly and effectively eliminated. The program commenced in 1998 following the declaration of Australia as a Free Area for bovine tuberculosis and ended in December 2002."