Sunday, February 14, 2010

Wild animals found at police post: Someone must have kept them illegally

 Wild animals found at police post: Someone must have kept them illegally
A STOMPer saw these caged up animals, believed to be wild species from Africa, in front of a police post in Queensway.

Said the STOMPer:

"I'm not sure what the animals are, but they look like some kind of wild raccoon or mongoose.

"I remember seeing the animal in the cartoon The Lion King.

"Someone must have been keeping these wild animals illegally before they were sent to the police.

"I think it's harmful to keep wild animals as domestic pets, because they belong out there in the wild.

"Kudos to the person who has saved these animals by sending them to the police."

 Wild animals found at police post: Someone must have kept them illegally
 Wild animals found at police post: Someone must have kept them illegally
 Wild animals found at police post: Someone must have kept them illegally
 Wild animals found at police post: Someone must have kept them illegally

The person who submitted this to STOMP is quite mistaken in several areas.

For one thing, I believe that he or she is thinking that these are meerkats (Suricata suricatta), which is a species of mongoose that lives in large groups in arid regions of southwestern Africa. However, the animals in the photos are ferrets (Mustela putorius furo), which belong to the weasel family.

A second point is that ferrets have actually been domesticated for more than 2,000 years, so it is quite inaccurate to call them 'wild' animals.

(Photo by anathejka)

The ferret is thought to be descended from a species of weasel known as the European polecat.

European polecat, Scotland;
(Photo by fergus_knight)

However, there is also the possibility that the ferret's ancestry lies with another species, the steppe polecat (Mustela eversmanii). Alternatively, the ferret may have originated from hybrids between the 2 species of polecat.

Like the domestic cat (Felis silvestris catus), ferrets were probably domesticated to hunt vermin. Like that of its wild relatives, the ferret's long thin body enables it to follow its quarry down tunnels and burrows, making it an excellent hunter of rabbits and rodents. In the practice of ferreting, the ferret flushes the rabbit (Oryctolagus cuniculus) out of its burrow, causing the rabbit to abandon its hiding place and run into nets that have been laid around possible escape routes.

(Photo by hddod)
In recent years, more and more people are keeping ferrets as pets.

(Photo by a_lonewolf)

(Photo by anathejka)
I have to admit, there is something very cute and endearing about them.

Ferrets are banned here in Singapore, which is something I find very puzzling, as they are lumped under the umbrella term of 'exotic pets'. For one thing, ferrets have had a much longer history of domestication than many other species we consider as pets, such as golden hamsters (Mesocricetus auratus) and chinchilla (Chinchilla lanigera).

Many other countries have regulations on the keeping of ferrets; for example, a permit is required to own a ferret if you are living in many parts of the United States of America. In Hawaii and California, ferrets are banned outright, as is the case in Iceland and New Zealand.

Part of the rationale probably stems from the ferret's prowess as a terrestrial and subterranean hunter. In places such as New Zealand, where the ferret and its wild relatives the stoat (Mustela erminea) and least weasel (Mustela nivalis) have been introduced to control rabbits (which were themselves introduced), these carnivores take a heavy toll on native wildlife, especially reptiles and ground-nesting birds.

In Singapore, having feral populations of ferrets might help control rats and mice in urban areas. However, at the same time, they will probably compete with and prey on native wildlife, and if they prove adaptable enough to survive in our forest reserves, they would most likely pose a significant threat to the survival of many more species, some of which are on the brink of extinction. Many countries already have to grapple with the problems posed by feral cats and dogs (Canis lupus familiaris), and while stray cats and dogs don't appear to be causing many problems for native wildlife here in Singapore, I suppose it is a more prudent decision to avoid having to deal with any potentially disastrous ecological consequences by banning ferrets.

Last year, 5 ferrets were confiscated by the police and given to the Singapore Zoo. As far as I can tell, the sale of ferrets is not restricted in Malaysia and Thailand, so I won't be surprised if there are people who managed to purchase ferrets and smuggle them into Singapore, as is the case with many other species.