The Ferret





Our dictionaries say that “ferret” as a verb active means to search out

carefully. This is certainly an important function of the animal, but,

as it belongs to the Musteline or flesh-eating weasel family, it has

also inherited these animals’ boldness and savageness, though tempered

and exercised in a very useful direction, i. e., of killing off the

most bothersome and numerous of our vermin for us. It is rather a

well-known family, the one to which the ferret belongs, including such

animals as the sable, which furnishes the highly-prized fur, the skunk,

with its not as greatly valued perfume, the ermine, the color of which

is likened to the driven snow and whose dress forms the badge of

royalty, the weasel, from which artists obtain their finest brushes, the

marten, the badger, and the otter. The shape of these animals, the

characteristics being strongly marked in the ferret, is long, slender,

and serpentine (snake-like and winding), their teeth are very sharp, the

muzzle and legs short. Their average food is rats, rabbits, and birds.

Members of this class are found in all climates and parts of the earth.


It is necessary to state, primarily, that there is no such thing as a

wild ferret; it is domesticated in the same degree as a cat or a dog.

The wild animal from which the ferret is bred is the weasel, just as the

dog is originally of wolf extraction, and the cat of the same class as

the tiger or lion. The ferret is also interbred with the different

species of the musteline tribe, such as the mink, marten, polecat, and

fitch. These are nevertheless all weasels in the same way that terriers,

black and tans, Newfoundlands, and poodles all belong to the family of

dogs. The ferret’s origin has been traced by some to Spain, by others

again to the northwestern part of Africa, and by still different writers

as far away from us as Egypt, but it was first used authentically for

ratting and rabbiting in Great Britain, where it is most highly prized,

its merits understood, and where almost every one is as familiar with it

as he is with the nature of his house cat. The public here in America is

yet but indifferently acquainted with the ferret. At an exhibition of

ferrets made by the writer at Madison Square Garden there was about one

out of every fifteen persons that knew the name of the animal at all,

and the ferrets were alternately designated as skunks, weasels,

guinea-pigs, raccoons, monkeys, woodchucks, kittens, puppies, squirrels,

rabbits, chipmunks, rats (an animal for which they are commonly

mistaken), hares, martens, otters, small kangaroos, muskrats, beavers,

seals, and, ridiculous as it may seem, small bears. The American race of

ferrets has been bred to a high degree of intelligence, as the proper

medium of wildness in the hunt and docility to its keeper has been

obtained principally through the efforts of the present writer. This,

however, has only been brought about after a great deal of close study

and experiment in cross breeding, until now the American animal is

greatly preferable to its more sluggish and vicious English brother.


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