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The countryside’s casual killer

Outdoor Living

DEADLY ESCAPEES A number of fur farms still operate in Ireland, and as long as mink continue to escape, or in some instances, be deliberately released from them, there is little chance of effectively controlling the population of these aggressive predators.

Country Sights and Sounds
John Shelley

Just when we thought it was all over, little Miss Winter returned to storm about the place as if to let us know that even when she’s gone she won’t be quickly forgotten. As I look from my window large flakes of wet snow drop uncertainly, hesitating on their way to the flooded ground. A thin crust of ice covers the car and birds throng at the feeders, fighting over the last few sunflower seeds.
My initial concern was for my tomato plants. My babies! Lovingly coaxed from the soil or cajoled into premature growth, depending on one’s point of view, I left them in the polytunnel overnight, imagining that they held in their spindly stems strength enough to withstand early April cold. Most have keeled over, as have my peppers. Broad beans, boasting their first embryonic flowers, are still standing but blackened leaves show that damage has been done.
When I first came to Ireland a friend told me ‘Never start planting things until May. We’ll get a late frost, you’ll see, and you’ll only have to start again.’ Yet every year we do the same, excited at the warmth of the sun as the days start to lengthen.
This year we have early butterflies in the form of buttery yellow Brimstone, splendid Peacock, and a solitary, perfectly formed male Green-veined white that found its way into the house. I helped him outside, where he properly belongs, and watched as he fluttered at the window as if trying to plead his case. Did he know the weather was about to turn? I doubt he fared well.
Hours have been spent trying to track down my otter, but we have yet to meet for a second time. I found fresh tracks and more orange coloured droppings on his spraint heaps, so he is definitely still around.
I did think I’d found him when I heard rustling on the river bank and saw the reed stems shift as something moved through them. A mink clambered up and came out to face me.
He was a fine, large animal, glossy black with a small white patch on his throat, beady eyed, sleek and fearless, a sort of Lee van Cleef of the animal world, dressed as a clergyman and amusing himself issuing Last Rites to all he meets.
He gave a long stare, at my throat, I thought, before sauntering past, poking his pointed muzzle into every nook and cranny and investigating each tussock of grass as he made his way upstream. I followed him as far as I could, until we came to a deep ditch. He was able to swim across – I suppose I could have followed, but chose not to – and continue his way unhindered.
Mink; casual killer more than savage, taking all he finds whether hungry or not. Climbing like a cat he destroys the nests of songbirds. Slipping serpentine through rushes and reeds he wipes out families of wildfowl. Once he picks up the warm scent of poultry and finds his way into the farmyard no duck or hen will be saved, unless confined behind steel bars embedded in a concrete floor and securely roofed.
This one still wears his warm winter coat. It will, if I have my way, be his last and he will not change it before my veggies grow anew.
I know, though, that before long there will be another to take his place, for tens of thousands of mink have colonised most of the country and will soon be producing litters of kits. Perhaps surprisingly, a number of mink farms still operate in Ireland. As long as animals continue to escape, or in some instances be deliberately released from such establishments, there is little chance of effectively controlling the population of these aggressive predators.
It is the inquisitive nature of the mink that could be its downfall. Once we become aware of his presence it is only a matter of time before we cross paths. Clever baiting with tinned pet food or fresh fish will help keep him in the area and he becomes easy prey. Humane mink traps can be purchased locally, and the animals are easily induced to enter them. Alternatively, the National Parks and Wildlife Service are keen to keep mink numbers down as much as possible.
Would-be trappers should learn to differentiate between invasive mink and the protected and easily captured native pine marten and let this latter species go unharmed.
By the time this gets to print the world will be warmer, things will be growing once more and we shall be at least one mink less.