Mustelids are slender bodies carnivorous mammals that naturally occur throughout Asia, Europe and North America. Three species were introduced into New Zealand. Mustelids have a huge impact on New Zealand’s native species. Stoats kill 40 North Island brown Kiwi chicks per day on average which adds up to 15000 per annum. That accounts for 60 percent of North Island brown Kiwi born. Another 35 percent of chicks are also the victims of other Predators including ferrets. Of the North Island brown Kiwi whose population is halving every decade. The stoat is a member of the mustelid family, along with weasels and ferrets. It was introduced to New Zealand in the 1880s to control rabbits and hares. Stoats are now considered “public enemy number one” for New Zealand birds. By the mid 1870s, rabbits were becoming a serious agricultural pest in New Zealand. Despite the protests of bird experts, ferrets, stoats and weasels were released throughout pastoral areas and by the mid 1890s they had spread into forests west of Lake Manapouri. Far too late, after many official protests, the government changed its policy on mustelids in 1903. However, it was not until 1936 that all legal protection for mustelids was removed.
Stoats and weasels are similar in colour and general appearance, but stoats are large, have longer tails and a straight line where the brown fur on their backs meets the white belly fur. From 350-400 mm long from nose to tip of tail, the stoat is reddish-brown above, white to yellowish underneath, and has a long tail relative to that of a weasel, with a distinctive and obvious bushy black top. Males are generally considerably larger than females. Average weight of males is about 325 grams, and females 205 grams, through this may vary from region to region. In very cold, snow-prone areas some stoats develop a pure white winter fur, through this is rare in New Zealand. Stoats have acute sight, hearing and smell, and may have acute sight, hearing and smell, and may have some colour perception. Stoats live in any habitat in which they can find prey. In New Zealand they can be found from beaches to remote high country, at any altitudes, up to and beyond the tree-line; in any kind of forest – exotic or native; in scrub, dunes, tussock, and farm pastures. They are even know to occur near human settlements.
Weasels are found in low numbers in most habitat types in New Zealand but impact on lizard and invertebrate populations as well as bird life. Whittaker’s skink on the mainland has been reduced to a single remnant population by predation pressure and loss of habitat from bush clearance and conversion to pasture.
Ride of Facts time
The weasel does not have many friends. Animals much bigger than it do not dare come near.
Some say the weasel will kill without reasons even though it is not hungry.
It is not afraid to fight a bear or a porcupine. Weasels are as curious as raccoons. They look under even bush and sneak into holes.
Ferrets and minks are cousins of the weasel. The weasel’s coat changes colour. The brownish summer coat turns white for the winter. Just the tip of the tail stay black.
Some people say that a weasel smells worse than the skunk.
The slender body allows it to enter underground burrows.
Snakes, hawks and owls kill the weasel. Weasels are trapped for their lovely fur.
The weasel may be small but it is a good fighter and moves in flash.
It is a silent hunter and can approach without a sound, then rush upon its prey.