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Polecat and ferret

These two species are closely related and can interbreed to produce ‘polecat-ferrets’, which are easily confused with true polecats.

The polecat (Mustela putorius) had been persecuted to extinction in Scotland by the early 20th century. Polecat populations derived from released animals exist in Argyll and Perthshire and possibly elsewhere, but true polecats are among Scotland’s rarest mammals.

The Argyll population (and another in Cumbria) provide hope that the polecat could recolonise Scotland’s west and southwest.

The closely related feral ferret (Mustela furo) has been bred in a variety of colours and can interbreed with polecats. It can be hard to tell true polecats apart from these hybrids with their polecat-type markings. View the Vincent Wildlife Trust website to read about Polecats and Ferrets: How to tell them apart.

As ferrets are widely kept in captivity, a high number of animals escape to the wild each year. It is thus tricky to verify where self-sustaining feral, and truly wild populations exist.

Feral populations aren’t obvious on the mainland. But they thrive on offshore islands with numerous rabbits and few other carnivores.

Feral populations are established on:

  • Shetland
  • the Uists
  • Benbecula
  • Bute
  • Islay