There are a lot of misconceptions about ferrets. Among them, a lot of people think ferrets are wild animals. I’ve had more than one person ask me what wild ferrets are like, where they come from, when people first started putting them in cages, etc.
But, it’s very easy to write about wild ferret facts, because – well – there aren’t any.
There is, simply put, no such thing as a wild ferret.
Ferrets have always been domesticated
Dogs are the domesticated version of the canine type of animal. While you will sometimes hear about “wild dogs,” these are dogs that have returned to the wild. Sometimes, they returned to the wild a few generations ago. But still, the dog’s natural state, as a species, is as a domesticated animal.
The same goes for cattle/cows. Cows are the domesticated version of a certain type of animal. Basically, before cows were domesticated, they were a different species. That different species was the same type of animal as a cow, just like dogs are the same type of animal as wild wolves. But again, they’re technically different species.
Before ferrets were domesticated, they were polecats. Probably the lighter colored Steppe Polecats. Centuries later, their domesticated descendants, the ferrets, were introduced to the British Aisles, where they bred with the dark European Polecats. The result were ferrets with the coloring we recognize today.
For more facts about the origin of the ferret, check out this post.
Polecats and ferrets look almost identical, but they are different species. One is wild, one is domesticated.
Ferrets, as the domesticated species, have very little left in the way of survival instinct. I’m often amazed that my ferrets haven’t accidentally killed themselves within the confines of my apartment. They could not survive on their own for very long. Back when ferrets were used for hunting, they at least knew how to feed themselves in the wild. Today’s domesticated house-pet ferret wouldn’t have a chance out there.
Lessened survival instinct is characteristic of a domesticated species. Such animals are literally bred to be codependent. But humans also depend on our domesticated animals. We get milk and meet from cattle, transportation from horses, wool from sheep, pest control from cats, and a hunting partner from dogs and from ferrets. That’s why we domesticated these animals, after all, because they were useful to us.
Along the way, we discovered another use for domesticated animals: Companionship. So even in this day and age, when we no longer need dogs for hunting and cats to chase vermin away from our homes, we still keep them around. The codependence of their domesticated nature, combined with their natural intelligence, created creatures ideal for human companionship. For the same reason, we still keep ferrets around, too.
The Black-footed ferret
Some people get confused because of this wild animal called the black-footed ferret. Simply put, a black-footed ferret is not the same animal as the domesticated ferret.
The black-footed ferret is also called the American polecat, but it’s not really a polecat, either. Various features in its body shape, skeleton, etc., make it more closely related to a weasel. Of course, weasels are closely related to polecats, and to ferrets. But they’re different animals.
Even if the black-footed ferret were a type of polecat, it comes from the wrong part of the world. The ferret’s polecat ancestors came from around the Mediterranean Sea, and much later, mixed with polecats native to Europe. Only then was the ferret introduced to the American continent. The black-footed ferret is native to North America.
In short, the ferrets we take into our homes as pets are not domesticated black-foot ferrets. They’re an entirely different species, domesticated from its beginning, and native to Europe, not America.
Nothing wild here
Ferrets are not wild animals. They’ve been domesticated for thousands of years, and have very little wild left in their nature. Because of this, they are perfectly suited to be your indoor friend and companion and have little or no desire to roam to woods in freedom.
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