RUSSIAN FERRETS POPULATION MONITORING
Russian history of ferrets keeping as domestic pets springs from 1978 when a well-known zoologist Dr. Dmitry Ternovsky breeds the hybrid of wild polecat and European mink, a “khonorik” (although, in accord with unverifiable data in the eastern Russian areas people from time immemorial has kept polecats in villages for rodent control). Khonorik causes sensations on international fairs and promptly gains popularity. Khonoriks become fashionable; nevertheless, as this animal is rare and for most people hardly obtainable, and what is more, aggressive and scarcely domesticable, they begin to keep ferrets at home.
After some time, Soviet government promulgate the law prohibiting breeding fur-bearing animals by private persons, and passion for ferrets comes to an end. During Perestroika, the law is canceled, and after a time the people arise, who breed or repurchase ferrets from fitch farms and sell them as khonoriks. Ferrets until 2000-2001 are rare as home pets, and, on the territory of Russia, they occur occasionally.
Since 2001-2002, a sudden raise of ferrets’ population has begun. In February 2004, we created and steadily updated the database on domestic ferrets (Ferret Data Base), which stays open for each ferret owner to enter information on his/her pet by means of questionnaire, placed on the site of our society. By September, we had at our disposal data for 462 ferrets from 331 owners. This sampling volume appeared to be representative and sufficient for statistic processing and compiling the «population portrait». For population description, the following criteria were chosen: distribution of ferrets as per age, color, sex, condition (castrated / non-castrated), and origin, as well as owners' distribution among the regions of Russia.
«Population portrait» of Russian ferrets
Ferrets are most common in the two biggest Russian cities: Moscow and St. Petersburg, owners’ share of them being 95%. These two cities are the ferrets’ «spread centers»: here the most experienced ferret breeders live, Moscow and St. Petersburg are exactly the sources of ferrets being brought to most other towns of Russia.
On average in Russia 77% owners keep a ferret, 16% keep two, 7% - three and more.
By September 2004, half of all ferrets are distributed as per age between 1 year 1 month and 2 years 4 moths, at that the value of 1 y. 5 m. divides population into halves. It is the evidence of the ferrets’ population being young enough. Abrupt raise of its number thus has begun one and a half year ago at the earliest.
Russian ferrets have 3 genetic deterministic colors: albino, pastel and sable group. Sable group is rather variable, nevertheless, there 4 main types within: standard sable, dark sable, pearl and goldish ones. This group’s colors are capable of changing over within certain range: for instance, pearl ferret may turn dark sable in summer. That is why, the decisive precision of sable ferrets’ colors is quite disputable, and their distribution within the sable group is not of high reliability.
The sable group is dominating (81%), shares of pastel and albinos make correspondingly 15 and 4%.
Ferrets are distributed as per sex virtually in equal parts (48% males and 52% females). Share of castrated animals duffers significantly for males and females; when determining the share of castrated and non-castrated, merely animals of age exceeding 10 months were taken into account). It apparently has to do with the fact that the vet capable of proper female castration operation is hard to find. To eliminate prolonged oestrus the owners (not breeders) usually arrange mating on the late oestrus phase, to minimize the chance of pregnancy.
By now, more than a half of ferrets are of home breeding: bred by small breeders (48%) or purchased in pet shops (6%), where they are brought from small breeders as well. Third part of the ferrets is bred in fur farms: (bought directly from fur farms or on pet markets, where most of animals originate from fur farms as well).
In comparison with 2002, the share of homebred ferrets has increased dramatically; accordingly, the share of farm ferrets has reduced.
To conclude with, we would like to thank all owners and breeders, who has granted data on their pets. Monitoring ferrets’ population in conditions of its expansion is important as it gives opportunity to trace changes of features hereof. It is not of just theoretical, cognitive interest, but serves a basis for further studies of ferrets’ life. In particular, the gathered data gave birth to several research works, which our society is conducting in collaboration with zoologists of Moscow State University Zoology museum. We hope that the results of these studies will be published in the following newsletter issues.