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At Sykes Holiday Cottages, we place a great deal of importance on creating a positive impact on our planet. That’s just one of the reasons the conservation charity, Chester Zoo, is one of our long-standing partners.
As part of our partnership, we have had the pleasure of working with the zoo to support its UK Wildlife Conservation Project. This has the aim of monitoring and understanding the small mustelid population on the Chester Zoo estate.
Our team has been able to gain first-hand insight into these charming creatures’ lives with the help of the zoo’s wildlife specialists.
Read on to discover how much you know about the mischievous mustelid…
A: Mustelids are carnivorous mammals that include badgers, weasels, otters, ferrets, and stoats, just to name a few of the species. Here at Chester Zoo, we are focusing on the smaller species, including polecats, stoats and weasels. You can identify these by their long bodies and short legs. They also have slinky movements to help them get into small spaces, like the Mostela boxes we’re using to observe them.
A: One way of distinguishing between some of the most common mustelids is by their appearance. Polecats are the larger of the three species, similar in length to a cat! They have dark brown fur and are noticeable by their dark facial mask with white ear tips and muzzles.
There are some polecat/ferret hybrids around, however. The telltale sign of a pure polecat is the face mask with a dark band coming down to the nose. This isn’t always easy to observe if the animal is moving fast, but this is where camera trap clips help!
Stoats are around 20-30cm long and are a sandy brown colour with a cream coloured belly, and their tails have a distinctive black tip. Weasels are the smallest (around 17-24cm long) and chestnut brown in colour. Like stoats, weasels have a creamy white belly. However, on a stoat, the line between the brown fur and white is straight and distinctive, whilst on weasels it’s irregular.
A: Unlike badgers who are the more sociable of the mustelid family, the smaller species tend to hunt alone.
They prefer their own company and you will more often than not see them scurrying solo, although they’re very fast so you’ll be lucky to see them! Observing with a Mostela gives us an insight you wouldn’t usually get.
Footage of a polecat from one of Chester Zoo’s Mostela boxes
A: Mustelids live in a wide variety of places. They often take over small burrows, reside in dry stone walls or piles of bricks; simply wherever they feel like! Stoats prefer to build their nests and sets from leaves and grass, while badgers create a network of underground burrows to hide away in.
They favour tight spaces that make them feel safer while they’re resting and as they’re nocturnal, it’s important that they’re hidden from predators hunting in the daylight.
A: Unfortunately, small mustelids have suffered a decline owing to persecution and habitat loss. We can help by improving our gardens and making them a better, wilder place for wildlife. Habitat connectivity is particularly important such as hedgerows, log piles and access through and between gardens. While stoats, weasels and polecats are not common garden visitors, if we don’t ‘build it’ they won’t come!
If you spot any mustelids in Cheshire then you can record your sightings with the Cheshire Local Environmental Records Centre RECORD Home (record-lrc.co.uk), while mustelids around the wider UK can be reported at LERC-finder (alerc.org.uk).
See for yourself where the mustelids reside at Chester Zoo with a trip to the estate, or why not simply enjoy a day out at the zoo to see what other mammals you can identify? We have a lovely range of cottages in Chester you can stay in during your visit to the area.
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