In California, ferrets are illegal. Despite volumes of convincing evidence that ferrets are not the menace that California suggests, lawmakers still have not budged from their position based on erroneous facts and figures. Are ferrets really the menace they are claimed to be?
Myth: Predators of Endangered Seabirds
Boyd Gibbons, Director of California Department of Fish and Game, in a letter written on March 25, 1994, claimed that “the state of Massachusetts has adopted a law (with) restrictions against ferrets because… wild ferrets deciminated [sic] a population of endangered Terns.”
Conversely, Thomas M. French, Assistant Director of the Division of Fisheries and Wildlife, Commonwealth of Massachusetts, in a letter dated February 20, 1991, stated that “there has never been a recorded case of Tern predation by a ferret in Massachusetts… in fact, I have never heard of such a case anywhere in North America.”
Score: California – 0, Ferrets – 1
Myth: Predators of Waterfowl
Jack C. Parnell, Director of California Department of Fish and Game, in a memo from February 26, 1986, purported that “ferrets prey upon… waterfowl.”
However, The United States Department of the Interior stated on February 19, 1997, that “in the 30-year history of research conducted by Northern Prairie Science Center on nesting waterfowl, domestic ferrets have never been identified or considered as a predator of duck nests.” Furthermore, the Delta Waterfowl Foundation, said in a letter dated February 11, 1997, “(we have) never heard of any problem with domestic ferrets destroying waterfowl eggs and… we have never encountered any domestic ferrets in the fields.”
Score: California – 0, Ferrets – 2
Myth: Predators of Indigenous Wildlife
Boyd Gibbons, in a letter and Ferret Fact Sheet dated March 25, 1994, claimed that “ferrets can and will survive in the wild in California.” And, in the same letter, he also says that “stray, nonbreeding ferrets could have serious impacts on local wildlife populatons.”
Yet, the United States Public Health Service says that “domestic ferrets… can survive only in captivity”, the Centers for Disease Control asserts that “stray ferrets do not appear capable… of establishing themselves in the wild”, and the State of New Jersey, Department of Environmental Protection argues that “lost ferrets are rarely found and usually die soon after escape.”
Score: California – 0, Ferrets – 3
Myth: As Ferocious as Pit Bulls
The California Department of Health Services hypothesizes that “ferrets,… like pit bulls have been bred to be especially ferocious.”
Not according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture or the U.S. Public Health Service who testify that ferrets are “easily handled and non-dangerous” and “docile and cat-like”. Doesn’t sound too ferocious to me!
Score: California – 0, Ferrets – 4
Myth: Extincted 20 Bird Species
And who knows how the California Department of Health Services supports its 1988 claim that “ferrets… have contributed to the extinction of 20 species of New Zealand birds and have pushed many to the brink of extinction.”
Carolyn King, Scientific Editor of The Royal Society of New Zealand, states that “mustelids (ferrets, stoats, weasels and polecats) cannot be proved to be directly responsible for any of the shockingly long list of island populations of birds that we know to have become extinct since the human colonization of New Zealand.” She adds further, “There is not a single known extinction or diminution in New Zealand that can be regarded as definitely and solely due to (ferrets and other) mustelids… Overseas the story is the same: only 1 percent of 163 extinctions recorded from islands all over the world since 1600 have been attributed to mustelids compared with 26% attributed to cats and 54% attributed to rats.”
Score: California – 0, Ferrets – 5
Myth: Carriers of Rabies
Once again, the California Department of Health Services makes another astounding claim: “Being fearless, savage and tenacious… should make (ferrets) exceptionally effective transmitters of rabies.”
Yet the Centers for Disease Control Annual Summaries of Rabies Surveillance (1984-1990) clearly indicate findings of 2,310 rabid cats, 2,240 rabid dogs, and only 10 rabid ferrets.
Score: California – 0, Ferrets – 6
Myth: Nonvaccinatable for Rabies
Boyd Gibbons (him again!) erroneously claimed in the same apocryphal letter from 1994 that there is no proven vaccine to prevent rabies in ferrets.
Donald G. Hildebrand, President of Rhone Merieux, in a letter penned less than two weeks later, stated that “Rhone Merieux is the manufacturer of IMRAB, a killed rabies vaccine which has been approved by the United States Department of Agriculture for use in six species of animals, including ferrets…”
Score: California – 0, Ferrets – 7
Ding, ding! Technical knock-out! None of the arguments supporting the premise of keeping ferrets illegal in California are valid.