RSPCA officer Ellie West holding ophaned baby polecat © RSPCA

01.09.14
An RSPCA officer has rescued an unusually large amount of orphaned baby polecats in the past two months.

The officer collected three baby polecats at three separate locations in West Wales. Two were found in Carmarthenshire and one was found in Ceredigion.

Animal collection officer (ACO) Ellie West said she was surprised to be called out to three orphaned baby polecats in such a short amount of time:

“It is quite unusual to have so many babies found in such a short period of time. I have worked in wildlife rehabilitation for over 15 years and only ever dealt with two others during that time.”

 

Caring for orphaned polecats

Baby polecat being hand fed © RSPCAThe first baby polecat, who was only four weeks old and was just opening his eyes, was found on 18 July at Rhandirmwyn, Llandovery.

Ellie cared for the poor kit by feeding him with a syringe before taking him to Stapeley Grange Wildlife Centre where they had others in their care of a similar age.

The second baby polecat was found at Brechfa Forest in Carmarthenshire on 19 July and was taken to a veterinary surgery by a member of the public. Ellie then took the polecat to a Gower Bird Hospital, who have dealt with polecats before.

The third baby polecat was found by a member of the public and was taken to the Animalarium in Borth, Ceredigion. Ellie was then called to collect the young animal, which was around eight to 10 weeks old, and also took it to a Gower Bird Hospital to be cared for.

 

Advice on what to do with orphaned polecats

Ellie said:

“The polecats were not found to be injured, but they had all been found without their parents who had not returned to them. The first polecat that was found would not have survived long because of his age.

“They are a quiet, shy and a secretive animal so are not usually seen. It might have been that the parents were struggling to find food, but it could have been anything.

If anyone does find a baby polecat they are concerned about our advice is to leave them alone unless they are injured, in the hope that their parents will find them.

 

How you can help

The baby polecats need constant feeding and care until they are old enough to fend for themselves. It is hoped that after a period of hand-rearing they can be released back into the wild.

If you would like to help the RSPCA rescue and rehabilitate more animals, you can donate online or give £3 now by texting HELP to 78866.

(Text costs £3 + one standard network rate message)

 

More about polecats

  • Polecats were driven to the brink of extinction in Britain early last century after persecution by farmers and gamekeepers. They were limited to a small area of Wales but are now on the rise again and can now be found throughout Wales, the midlands and central southern England and parts of Scotland.
  • They have been given Biodiversity Action Plan status by the Joint Nature Conservation Council (JNCC) which recognises that, while not a priority species, they are an important population in need of conservation.
  • They are closely related to the domestic ferrets and have blackish hairs with yellow underfur on the body, and a dark “bandit” patches around the face.
  • Their name comes from the French ‘poule chat’ or ‘chicken cat’ because they were thought to be a threat to poultry. In actual fact, the polecat’s diet consists of rabbits and rats and they are often found around farm buildings in winter because they are hunting rats. Unfortunately, eating rats means that they are prone to secondary poisoning by rodenticides.
  • In the wild, a female polecat usually has one litter of five to eight kits per year in May/June. Babies are born hairless and blind and begin to eat meat from three weeks.In September/ October, the kits leave the mother to try to build a territory of their own. The release of the orphaned polecats is timed to mimic their natural dispersal.
  • The RSPCA’s Stapeley Grange Wildlife Centre has rehabilitated many orphan polecats over the years. A paper, written by the RSPCA and published in 2010, reported on radio tracking studies that found that polecats survive well after release.
  • They live around five years in the wild but have been known to live up to 14 years in captivity.They are solitary and mainly nocturnal
  • Although they occur in a wide range of habitats, they prefer lowland areas such as valleys and farmland with hedgerows and small woods.