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Rehabilitating A Stoat Named Whisper
A Tiny Stoat Kit Named Whisper
I am looking after a tiny stoat kit named Whisper. Whisper was found alone and apparently abandoned by a dog walker. She was handed to me because in recent years I’ve taken on the job of rehabilitating stoats and weasels for Mustelid Rescue UK. My job is to hand rear them until they are ready to be released into the wild.
Scroll down to follow Whisper’s story
Whisper & Stuart Go Outside
At 10 Weeks Old
Whisper and Stuart are ready to take the next step towards a life in the wild. They are both 10 weeks old and are climbing, fighting, and playing with increasing confidence. This week I moved them to an outdoor enclosure, with branches and a drystone wall for them to explore.
Catching them was tricky!
I’ve been as hands-off as possible during the last two weeks so it wasn’t easy to catch them. Whisper, who was hand-reared from a very early age, was easy, but Stuart hid away under a blanket and I wasn’t sure how I was going to get him until luckily he hid inside his safety sock (or sleeping bag as I call it). Then I was able to gather him up. I’m quite pleased because he’s more likely to bite me now!
They will stay in the new enclosure now until they are ready to be released into the wild. I built a nest for them there to keep them warm at night and I’ve left their sleeping bag inside so that they feel at home. It is important that their release is managed slowly. This gives them a better chance of adapting to life outdoors, and a better chance of surviving when they are eventually set free.
More stoat: Less human
From now on I will be completely hands-off, just leaving food for them without intruding. But I have installed cameras in their new nest so that I can see how they are getting on.
Watch the video
Take a look at the latest video of this new stage of their release, which I began filming when they were nine weeks old.
Whisper Gets a Playmate – Meet Stuart(a)
Eight Weeks Old
I was just beginning to prepare Whisper for a life in the wild and had got so far as adding branches to her enclosure for her to learn to climb up when I was contacted by some people in Norfolk who had a stoat kit the same age as Whisper that needed rehabilitating.
This was excellent news. In the wild stoats grow up in litters of seven or eight kits. They learn how to fight and hunt through play and so I knew that it would do both stoat kits the world of good to have one another for company.
And so, after a lot of driving, I got the new stoat kit here. The people in Norfolk who rescued the kit had named it Stuart, but it turned out to be a female. But the two stoats are exactly the same age and size and so she is an ideal friend for Whisper.
The short film below shows you what happened when I introduced them. It’s important to remember that when both kits were rescued their eyes were still shut and so neither had seen another stoat before. I carried Stuart(a) over to Whisper’s enclosure in a hat that the people who rescued her had given her to sleep in so that she felt safe and at home.
At first, both were wary and Whisper, who you will remember I named because she was so quiet, was particularly vocal, squeaking in alarm at what she at first took to be an intruder. But within in half an hour the two stoat kits had settled down to play.
It’s been wonderful to watch them play hide and seek and chase each other through toilet rolls and into one another’s safety hats and socks. With each other for company and to learn from, they both stand a much better chance in the wild. This is so much better than me trying to play with Whisper, throwing teddy bears and toilet rolls for her to chase!
Whisper Now Alert & Playful
At Seven Weeks Old
Whisper is now so alert she is ready to move to yet another new, and much bigger, enclosure. Both eyes are open and she is actually seeing things. It’s particularly striking when you compare her to a few weeks ago when her eyes first opened and she was quite dozy. She’s also started biting and testing everything she comes across, which of course is quite ‘stoaty’.
Her tail now has its distinctive black tip, indicating that she is a stoat. And she’s healthy. It’s interesting to note the clean, straight line where the cream fur of her belly meets the brown fur of her back. If you get close enough to these animals in the wild to see this line, it is a good way of telling weasels and stoats apart. On a weasel, it is very jagged.
Whisper is also eating meat now and, at 125gs, she is more than double the weight she was last week. I am still feeding her milk with a syringe, however, to ensure she doesn’t get dehydrated. The way to tell whether a stoat is dehydrated is to pinch fur at the back of the neck. If it springs back into shape then hydration levels are fine. I don’t think it will be long before Whisper starts drinking for herself.
The video below is great to watch. Play it to see how Whisper has developed and to see how she takes to her latest enclosure. This one is much bigger and has plenty of tubes for her to explore. I’m going to add twigs and branches as she begins to learn to climb. For now, she has her sleeping bag and a few toys from her old enclosure to make her feel at home.
The sleeping bag is important because at this age stoat kits in the wild spend a lot of time underground in tree roots, old rabbit warrens, or tucked away in the gaps under dry stone walls.
Watch Whisper emerge from her sleeping bag to explore her new surroundings:
Whisper Opens One Eye
At Five Weeks Old
Whisper is growing well. She is now five weeks old and both her eyes are now open. The first eye opened a whole day before the other and for that day she looked like a mini stoat pirate! Whisper is doing so well she is now ready to go into a larger enclosure where she has more space to explore. At this stage, stoat kits in the wild are starting to explore their immediate surroundings.
It is still very important that she stays warm but the good news she has been putting on weight – she now weighs 64gs – and has a lovely fat tummy so I will only be switching her heat mat on at night now. Watch the clip below to see her during her weigh-in.
So Quiet I Call Her Whisper
Four Weeks Old
Whisper is so small her eyes are yet to open and she can barely hold her own head up. She needs feeding every three hours – which means I’m not getting much sleep as I have to wake in the night to feed her. Unlike most baby stoats, which squeak loudly whenever they are hungry, Whisper is very quiet. In fact, it is for this reason I named her Whisper. This could be due to the fact that I am very diligent about feeding her on time.
Whisper: The Facts
Whisper May Have Been Dropped
Wild stoat kits are remarkable among young mammals in that they possess the ability to drop into a torpid state when their mother is out hunting. Their heart rate drops and they go into a deep sleep, a bit like the way an animal in hibernation behaves. This is one reason why so many kits that have been either dropped by their mothers or lost are found alive. The man who found Whisper waited some time to see if Whisper’s mother would come back to find her, before picking her up. I would always recommend this as stoats move their kits often and it isn’t uncommon for one to be dropped in the process.
Feeding Time is Crucial
Feeding a kit as young as Whisper requires considerable skill. Just a drop of milk on the lungs could drown her or leave her at risk of pneumonia. I use the palm of my hand rather than my thumb to push in the syringe. This isn’t easy because Whisper is just four weeks old and is so small she measures just 13cms from head to tail. She’s also very wobbly. Sometimes the milk runs down her chin and I have to wipe it for her!
A Diet of Milk and Meat
I feed Whisper a formula made from Esbilac, a puppy milk powder, but she also eats, and sucks on, tiny pieces of meat – she has minute little teeth. Many wildlife rehabilitators mistakenly keep baby carnivores on milk-only diets for too long. Since I had followed the lives of a family of wild weasels in my garden I knew that wild kits will suck on raw flesh as young as six days old. By two weeks old they are actively eating meat.
The Road to Release
Whisper is still a long way from being ready to release into the wild. The next stage will be to teach her to hunt. Ideally, for this skill, she needs other baby stoats to play with but I may have to stimulate her myself. I’ll keep posting photos and video of Whisper as she develops.
Art Inspired by Rescuing Weasels & Stoats
The following painting was inspired by watching stoat kits at play
And below is a portrait of Fidget, a weasel I rescued. Most of what I know about rearing stoats comes from rearing Fidget.
Click on the link below to see more paintings inspired by watching and caring for stoats in my garden.
Below is the story of a weasel I rescued.
Read more about my studies of stoats & weasels here:
Author: Robert E Fuller