Ferret (Mustela putorius)

​Date Published: February 2011

Assessment Summary

The origin of domesticated ferrets (Mustela furo) is uncertain. They are considered to have been domesticated from wild European polecats (M. putorius) around 1000BC, and were used by the Romans to catch rabbits. The native distribution of the European polecat is in Western Europe. Ferrets have established wild populations in New Zealand, the United Kingdom, Sardinia and Sicily. The ferret was introduced into New Zealand in 1867. During the 1880s and 1890s ferrets were bred and intentionally released to control rabbits. Thousands of ferrets were released, and the species is now established on the North and South Islands.

Ferrets have had a devastating effect on native birds and other wildlife in New Zealand. The rapid decline in kiwi populations has been attributed to predation by ferrets and other introduced vertebrates. Ferrets are also thought to contribute to the spread of bovine tuberculosis in New Zealand, and farmers conduct extensive campaigns to kill ferrets in order to remove the vector for this disease. Ferrets are a potential vector for human diseases and can cause painful bites.

The species is currently a controlled animal in Tasmania under the Nature Conservation Act 2002, and it is an offence to cause or allow ferrets to go at large in the State. Climate matching suggests that there is an extreme risk that ferrets could establish populations in Tasmania. In New Zealand ferrets feed on mammals, birds, invertebrates and reptiles. Ferrets could impact many native reptiles, insects, birds and mammals in Tasmania, including threatened species such as the New Holland mouse, eastern-barred bandicoot, Tasmanian devil, and the forty-spotted pardalote.

This risk assessment concludes that the likelihood that ferrets will establish wild populations in Tasmania is extreme and the potential consequences are also extreme. Ferrets have been categorised as an Extreme Threat to Tasmania. Based on this assessment it is recommended that ferrets are placed on the list of species that are not permitted to be imported into the State. Recommendations for managing domestic ferrets are also provided. Implementation of these recommendations will require stakeholder consultation.

Assessment Documentation

  Ferret (Mustela putorius)   (444Kb)   


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