The polecat (putois) is the wild cousin of the domesticated ferret (furet) and in France is classed as vermin (animal nuisible) along with many other species including weasels, rabbits, martens, wild boar and foxes, and six species of birds: rooks, black crows, starlings, jays, magpies and wood pigeons.
Similar to weasels, polecats have a long, slender body, short legs and a broad head. They can measure anything between 35-51cms from nose to the base of their tails, which can be 12-19cm long. They weigh between 0.7 and 1.4kg and males are substantially larger than the females.
They are solitary, living in lowland areas under hedges, in rabbit burrows and farm buildings and mate in spring. Two months later the female bears litters of three to seven young. These are weaned at around two months and leave home around four months and will mate the next year.
Polecats mainly eat rabbits, although they will also eat small mammals such as rats and mice, amphibians, birds and eggs. They can give off a very pungent smell.
Gamekeepers, especially, dislike them if they are raising game birds such as partridge and pheasant as they will eat both eggs and birds.
In the UK they are no longer classed as vermin and have been successfully reintroduced into several areas of the country.
Being classed as vermin in France means they can be exterminated all year round, by any means possible; they can be shot, trapped or poisoned and there is no maximum quota.
Wild animal charity Aspas has been campaigning for 20 years to abolish the official lists of so-called vermin, drawn up by the Conseil National de la Chasse et de la Faune Sauvage, mainly composed of hunters, arguing that every species has its place in the eco-system.
Each year, préfets choose which “vermin” on the list can be hunted in their department, and Aspas has ocassionally succeeded in arguing that the populations are so low that species should be excluded from the list of animals to be exterminated.
But the wild animal charity’s overarching aim is to get rid of the list of vermin completely.
To add your voice to the group’s online petition, go to www.aspas-nature.org and click on Campagnes, then Pétitions and Défense des nuisibles.
For more on Aspas, the national charity protecting wild animals, or to join and receive a free copy of its magazine, Goupil, visit: www.aspas-nature.org; call: 04 75 25 10 00 or write to: ASPAS, BP 505 – 26401 CREST CEDEX