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How an abandoned kit weaseled its way into my heart and onto your TV Screens
I’ve been watching a family of wild weasels in my garden for two years, monitoring their lives closely via surveillance cameras hidden in the shrubbery. It’s been fascinating following their story through the seasons, from the moment the adult pair mated, to the birth of the kits and on to watching the young on their first hunting lesson. I’ve learned some interesting things about these tiny mammals along the way. For instance how early the kits begin supplementing their milk diet with meat, how often a weasel mother will move her kits and how soon she begins to initiate her young to the reality of hunting – these tiny carnivores need to be fearless. So far my findings have been ground-breaking. Weasels are so small and so fast that although they are quite common mammals, very little is known about them and very few people have been able to watch them up close.
Any close or scientific observation of their behaviour has suffered both from their inaccessibility and a general distaste for their ruthless nature – they are formidable killers and are despised by many as vermin. But after watching them interact and observing the young kits as they rolled around and pounced on one another in my flower borders, it’s been fun to discover what playful natures they have. And I’ve begun to develop a huge respect for the way that these tiny creatures have adapted to survive.
I watched the kits here take on the rancour of a rat on their very first hunting expedition. Weasels are so secretive that I can’t emphasize enough how rare it is to see one up close and to be able to watch it for more than a few seconds. It’s only thanks to modern technology that this has been possible.
Nevertheless I was very excited when someone handed a four week old weasel kit that had been found in York to me to care for. The minute creature measured just 10cm and fitted snugly in the palm of my hand. It has been found lying on a path on Walmgate Stray in York and weighed just 50 grams. It was in poor shape. Cold, distressed and barely moving, it looked in a sorry state. I think it must have been dropped by its mother as she was moving her kits from one location to another and for some reason, possibly after being disturbed by dog walkers, she had not come back for him.
I was glad I had spent so long monitoring the wild weasels in my garden since I now had enough knowledge about how to care for this tiny kit. For instance, I knew that although at this age would have still been suckling, it would also be eating meat and so I didn’t need to find a milk formula – just to move him straight on to solids. My first priority was to keep the tiny creature warm. I dug out an old sock for him to sleep in and placed a heat mat inside his box. I keep a store of day-old chicks for the kestrels and owls in the vicinity in my freezer– a by-product of the egg-industry – and so I fed him one of those. He fed well on that first day.
I was still quite worried about the responsibility of caring for such a small life so during his first night. I woke twice check up on him. He’s settled in very well though and the sock that he sleeps in has become a comfort blanket. When Springwatch featured the wild weasels in my garden, the local news team at BBC Look North invited me into their studio to illustrate just how small weasels are. I took him in his sock so that he felt safe under the TV studio’s bright lights. Weasels only live for a year or two in the wild and so I’m undecided whether to release him or whether it would be kinder to keep him; since he’s unlikely to be able to hunt with the ferocity he will need to survive in the wild.
It’s difficult to know what to do in these situations, because of course he is a wild animal. The problem is that he’s been rescued and handed to me to look after, so I now feel responsible for his well-being. And I have to admit I’ve become very fond of him. In fact he has become a bit of a family pet. I’ve named him Fidget because he never keeps still. My daughters, Ruby, age four, and Lily, age eight, have dug out some of their old toys for him to play with and he wrestles these like a puppy. It’s quite fun watching them play with him on the sofa. They encourage him to run through an old toilet roll and are delighted when he appears out of the other side. My wife took him into their school last week for ‘show and tell’. We were a little worried that he might jump out of her hands so I made a long lead with a tiny collar, just in case.
He’s become so wriggly in the last week that I am now the only person who can handle him. I often take him out into the gallery to meet the visitors to my latest art exhibition. It’s been interesting watching people’s reactions because of course public opinion of weasels is quite low and yet when they see how cute they are up close they usually change their minds. He’s doubled in length and weight since he first arrived and is now so active I’ve built him a glass-fronted box to live in. I’ve also started on a larger outside aviary for him to move into later on, where I hope he will get used to an outdoor life.
More recently I decided I would need to keep him occupied while I did some painting in my studio. He was always wanting me to play with him. So I built an assault course around my studio for him to run around in. Click on the video here:
Little did I know Fidget would become a TV star, educating the nation about this amazing super small animal. In fact a video of him has had over 17 million views already! In the video above Fidget the weasel did a great job of running the course but it doesn’t always go so well. Check out this near miss below here:
No wonder I had to create him an assault course look what havoc he creates round my easel – not easy to do fine artwork and detail when this is happening around you!!
Author: Robert E Fuller