The Mink that Stopped Traffic
By L. Vanessa Gruden in Paw Printz July-August, 1999
I returned home late one Sunday evening to discover a phone message from the Town of Berlin Animal Control Officer, Jan Lund. She reported that a family of ferrets had been spotted in town. She had caught one of the babies, and wanted information on helping to catch the others, and where she could take the baby for care. As the only ferret shelter in Connecticut, the Ferret Association was the logical place to call.
This was interesting news. There are no colonies of feral domestic ferrets anywhere in the U.S. Most ferrets across the country are sold in pet stores already spayed and neutered. While there are a few breeders in Connecticut who might have lost an unspayed female, there are none in that locale. And that a ferret, one of the most domestic and unlikely to become feral of creatures, might have survived outside long enough to raise kits was astounding.
When I spoke to Officer Lund the next morning, the news became more perplexing. The animal had been found crossing a very busy 4-lane highway. In fact, police had needed to shut down the road so the mother, carrying her baby, could cross. During the confusion, the baby was dropped and Animal Control was able to capture it. Lund said the family had been seen living behind a business. The baby, she told me, was a solid, dark brown with a white spot on its chin.
The light began to dawn. “Are you SURE this is a ferret?” The answer came slowly. “Well, it LOOKS like a ferret, and it smells like a ferret…” I offered to drive over and check it out.
What I discovered was a beautiful 4 or 5 week old baby mink. As far as the size and body shape went, it did look like a domestic ferret. But, just as described, it was a dark brown with golden eyes and a big white spot on its chin. When it was explained exactly where the animal had been found, it all became clearer.
The local business where the mink had been living was a fish market! And right across the highway was a good-sized pond. Mink heaven! Mom probably raised her babies in close proximity to the free dinner provided by the fish market scraps, and was in the process of moving them back to the pond to learn how to “fish” for themselves.
People may be surprised to hear about mink living in a populated retail area, but mink are a hardy and opportunistic species. They are native to North America, and range throughout the continent. Far from being in danger of extinction, they’ve learned to quietly live near humans as long as there are woods, water, and fish. The busy Berlin Turnpike, despite its traffic, had fulfilled their needs quite well.
But poor Mom Mink should have moved her babies a day or two sooner, and a little more discretely. By this age, they were beginning to explore outside their den, and were happily rampaging around the market parking lot! Within a day, however, she had corralled the rambunctious youngsters and moved them all to the quiet safety of the pond.
And the little mink already in “custody?” Whether Mom would accept it back or not is debatable, so a local wildlife rehabilitator was called in to assess and advise. Fortunately, the baby is old enough to be weaned and fed soft food, so he or she should have an excellent chance of survival. The rehaber will work with the mink to see if it can be taught the necessary hunting skills required to return to the wild.
Perhaps the Town of Berlin can be persuaded to place a “Mink Crossing” sign along the highway. After all, mink are beautiful and useful predators who would be happy to rid the fish market and pond environment of any troublesome rats or mice, too. Who wouldn’t want to see wildlife flourish to fulfill nature’s design despite the overgrowth of suburban sprawl? I’d certainly enjoy my patronage of Home Depot more if I knew, while visiting some evening, there was a chance I might see Mom Mink and her family playing at the water’s edge. Wouldn’t you?