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Polecats Spread Across Britain, To Places They Haven't Been Seen In Nearly 100 Years

Feb 01, 2016 12:22 PM EST
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European polecats have made a strong comeback in Britain, according to the Vincent Wildlife Trust. A recent nationwide survey revealed the animals are spreading into areas where they have not been seen for the last 100 years.  

European polecats (Mustela putorius), a mammal in the weasel family with distinctive white facial markings that resemble a robber's mask, are native across the continent. In Britain, however, they were brought to the brink of extinction, as they are considered a nuisance because of their appetite for chickens and small game birds.  

"They had a really tough time from humans," Lizze Croose, a conservation officer for the trust and lead researcher of the survey, told BBC. "They were really hated - probably one of our most hated mammal species. And that resulted in them having a very extensive decline."

But recent studies suggest the little critter is mounting a strong recovery.

"It's brilliant, it's a real conservation success story," Croose added in the article. "This is something we really need to celebrate, the recovery of a native carnivore that we once almost lost completely."

After thousands of polecats were killed, the last survivors retreated to Wales and remote parts of Scotland. Since then, however, individuals have moved east into Suffolk and Norfolk, and north into South Yorkshire. A population introduced into Cumbria in the 1980s is also thriving, researchers added.

"Polecats are turning up in areas where they haven't been seen for over 100 years, so they have re-colonized really extensive parts of England," Croose told BBC. "The main reason for their comeback is that they are not being persecuted so much now. Polecats are legally protected, so that has resulted in a real reduction in trapping and killing, so polecats have been able to recover and spread across the country once more."

Although, they are not out of the woods just yet: The recent survey suggests polecats are mating with their domestic cousins,ferrets, and many animals there are now hybrids. Furthermore, an increasing amount of polecats are dying after eating poisoned rats or stumbling onto busy streets.  

Nonetheless, conservations are hopeful that populations will continue to grow and recover in Britain. 

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