Legalize it ?
Written by Veronica of ScrappyRat
No, I'm not talking about legalizing *that* !
This is about the issue of legalizing the keeping of pet ferrets in the state of California. On one side, there's the California Wildlife and Game Commission, and on the other are thousands of ferret lovers. Both sides have good intentions. California is a state with a lot to lose. It relies upon a thriving agricultural industry and tourism to keep itself fiscally sound. It's a state with mild weather year round and a wide variety of topographies, so it can be surprisingly easy for invasive species to become a problem.
Still... do any of these concerns outweigh the opinions of those who wish to keep ferrets, who argue that ferrets shouldn't even be regulated by the Wildlife and Game Commission since they are a pet species, not wildlife ?
There are several ways the Wildlife Commission determines if a species has the potential to become invasive. For example, all jirds are banned from being kept as pets in the state. A while ago, my husband and I were considering moving to California, but when we learned that several of our pets would be illegal (jirds include gerbils and degus) we scratched the state off of our list of possibilities.
In this case, I agree with the state's choice to ban them. Degus, while adorable, are a blight upon the Chilean vineyards. They eat young grape vines, leaving a path of destruction in their wake. The over abundance of a species' food source is one of the key determining factors in giving them the label of "invasive". Ferrets have a voracious appetite for small animals such as mice, rats, birds, etc. While these animals certainly exist in the state, they aren't any more abundant there than they are in others.
Another factor that creates concern is if a species lacks natural predators. California has a large population of coyotes, bobcats, mountain lions and other carnivores who would happily volunteer for the job, so this is one factor that can be dismissed easily.
The possibility of lost or dumped pets forming feral groups is another concern that has been raised, along with concerns whether they may be able to interbreed with wild species. According to a report by Legalize Ferrets and Dr Geo Graening of California State University Sacramento who has completed the Initial Study to be used for an actual Environmental Impact Report on ferret legalization for California, there have been no reports of feral ferret colonies forming in any states in the U.S., which is a pretty good sign that they won't become feral in California either.
A concern that has arisen that is quite specific to ferrets is the worry that some people breed ferrets with wild polecats, raising concerns about the domestic nature of ferrets. However, wild polecats do not exist in wild populations in the U.S. so the issue of interbreeding with ones in the wild isn't a realistic problem. The desire to prevent the keeping of dangerous or wild animals as pets is certainly real, however, and the difficulty comes in identifying polecat hybrids since they can look deceptively like domestic ferret species. In this case, the commission's worry is understandable.
Then there's the issue of whether ferrets pose a significant threat to people. Though they do have a propensity for being nippy (after all, they did earn themselves the moniker "carpet shark"), and they can inflict a nasty bite, the only reports of actual ferret attacks resulting in extreme injury or death have been in cases where the animals were left alone with infants or others who had no way of defending themselves. Otherwise, ferrets tend to be friendly pets, too small to be any real risk.
In my opinion, most of the concerns the commission poses could be addressed by requiring the mandatory spaying and neutering of ferrets brought into the state, rather than banning the species altogether. I volunteer with a rescue group that takes in small animals and exotics, ferrets included, so unfortunately I am very familiar with the reality that wherever any species of pet is sold, people will dump them onto the streets.
Requiring spaying and neutering will at least prevent these abandoned animals from creating even more unwanted pets. It's a shame that there are always so many irresponsible pet keepers willing to allow their pet to starve or be killed by other animals this way, but it's a sadly common problem. Preventing breeding will, at least minimize the impact of this behavior.
Domestic cats are legal in California, a species much more likely to form feral groups. Cats are also domestic carnivores who may bite or scratch, similar to ferrets, and although ferrets are more voracious carnivores, their size limits their danger to humans and other pets.
The legalization of ferret keeping in the state of California is an issue that's been argued for decades. To educate yourself on this issue, and to support whichever side you feel is best, take a look at these informational resources: