Ferrets (Mustela putorius)

Not Wanted!Status: Ferrets are a controlled animal in Tasmania under the Nature Conservation Act 2002, and it is an offence to cause or allow ferrets to go at large in the state. There are currently no restrictions on keeping, breeding or selling ferrets within Tasmania.

Risk Assessment:  Ferret (Mustela putorius) (433 KB)

Identifying Features

Ferrets (Mustela putorius) are small carnivorous mammal with a long, narrow body 20-46 cm in length and short legs. Ferrets have short, forward facing ears and a fully-furred tail up to 14 cm long. They have large canines and five non-retractable claws on each foot. Juveniles appear similar to adults. Ferrets are typically dark brown to black in colour, with pale yellow underfur and dark-tipped guard hairs. Most ferrets have a grey/white face that has a distinct masked appearance and numerous tactile facial bristles. Ferrets, particularly males, have a strong musky smell.

Ferrets walk with their body low, sniffing the ground for scent trails, but run with their back arched. They occasionally stand on their hind limbs to get a better view of their surroundings.

Two ferrets

Ferrets on the prowl
Image: Malene Thyssen. GNU Free Documentation Licence


History

Ferrets were introduced to Australia in the late 1880s to control rabbits and, although reports of wild ferrets occur occasionally, no permanent populations are known to have established. Ferrets are now commonly kept as pets in Tasmania.

Populations have successfully established in New Zealand, the British Isles, some Mediterranean islands, and parts of Russia. In New Zealand, ferrets are listed as Unwanted Organisms under the Biosecurity Act 2003 and are subject to large-scale control programs in many regions.


Distribution

Ferrets are highly adaptable and use a wide variety of vegetation types and structures. During the day ferrets rest in a sheltered den which can be located in any suitable hole such as a rabbit burrow, hollow log or natural rock crevice. Wood stacks or deserted buildings may be used in more urban areas, particularly during harsh winters.

In Tasmania, ferrets have been caught and road kill sighted in north and southeast. A population of ferrets at South Arm was believed eradicated by DPIPWE in 1999-2000.

Ferrets have been categorised as an Extreme Threat to Tasmania. Risk assessment concludes that the likelihood that ferrets will establish wild populations in Tasmania is extreme and the potential consequences are also extreme. Climate modelling suggests that the Tasmanian climate is highly suitable for establishment of this species.

View recorded distribution information in Natural Values Atlas


Environmental Impacts

Ferrets pose a threat to many threatened species in Tasmania through predation and competition; for example the New Holland mouse, eastern barred bandicoot, Tasmanian devil, spotted-tail quoll, and forty-spotted pardalote. Experience in New Zealand has shown that ferrets may pose a major risk to ground burrowing bird species in Tasmania; for example the short-tailed shearwater (mutton bird) and the little penguin (fairy penguin).

In recent years, the risk to Tasmania from ferrets has increased with the significant decline of the Tasmanian devil. The Tasmanian devil is a potential predator of ferrets particularly their young, and devil decline is likely to have reduced any predation pressure that this species may have had on ferret populations.

Ferrets have the potential to impact the poultry industry, although measures in place to prevent predation by quolls and devils may also be effective against ferrets.

Ferrets can transmit human and animal diseases including influenza, toxoplasmosis and canine distemper. In New Zealand, ferrets are known to transmit bovine tuberculosis to stock. Ferrets can also inflict a painful bite to humans!


Reproduction

Mating of ferrets usually occurs in September. The litter, usually of four to eight (but there have been instances of up to 12 in one litter), is born in October or November, with young independent by late January. Females can have a second litter after this if food is abundant.

There is high mortality in the first year, and the average lifespan in the wild is 2-5 years.


Control Measures

    Ferrets that are kept as pets should be desexed, vaccinated and kept in a secure enclosure. It is illegal to release ferrets into the wild in Tasmania and large fines apply.

    There have been many reports of feral ferrets being observed in Tasmania, but to date there have been no confirmed captures. If you see a feral ferret in Tasmania please report it immediately to the Invasive Species Branch on 1300 369 688 or by email to: invasivespecies@dpipwe.tas.gov.au


    Did you know?

    Feral ferrets in New Zealand are posing a real threat to the iconic kiwi and may be responsible for the extinction of other rare, native New Zealand ground dwelling birds.


    Further Information

    For advice on feral ferret management in Tasmania, contact the Invasive Species Branch on 03 6777 2200 or by email to: invasivespecies@dpipwe.tas.gov.au


    The PestSmart Toolkit provides information and guidance on best-practice invasive animal management on several key vertebrate pest species including rabbits, foxes, feral pigs and feral cats.


    See also:

    DPIPWE (2011) Pest Risk Assessment: Ferret/Polecat (Mustela furo and M. putorius)

    See other invasive mammals:

    Foxes | European rabbits | Feral pigs | Feral goats | Feral cats | Wild dogs

    See other invasive species:

    Birds | Freshwater species | Other species

    Contact

    Invasive Species Enquiries
    Invasive Species Branch
    165 Westbury Road
    PROSPECT TAS 7250
    Phone: 03 6777 2200
    Fax: 03 6336 5453
    Email: invasivespecies@dpipwe.tas.gov.au

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