Pet ferrets to be banned

  • Sandra Lee

Conservation Minister Sandra Lee today announced the sale, distribution and breeding of ferrets is to be banned to minimise their threat to New Zealand’s native wildlife.
Ms Lee made the announcement after the Department of Conservation’s Chief Technical Officer Geoff Hicks declared ferrets unwanted organisms under the Biosecurity Act. This followed Ms Lee asking the Department last year to investigate possible mechanisms for implementing a ban. The declaration will come into effect after the Biosecurity Amendment Bill 2001 is passed into law.
Ms Lee said the ban exempted current pets, and existing ferret farms that largely export their animals to overseas markets. But she said it meant that no pet ferrets can be bought, sold or bred. Existing farms will be exempted from the declaration, but no new farms will be allowed.
“The threat ferrets pose to New Zealand’s vulnerable native species such as kiwi is too great to ignore. As potential carriers of TB they also put at risk our farming industry. They pose a biosecurity risk to the all too few ferret-free areas on the mainland and offshore islands, ” Ms Lee said.
“The public has sent me a clear message on this topic. Of the 934 submissions lodged during public consultation, more than three-quarters requested that ferrets be banned. Currently, people can keep up to three ferrets as pets under the Wildlife Act regulations before they face any additional requirements.
“I am acting now to prevent a greater problem of ferrets in the wild in the future. The popularity of ferrets being kept as pets is on the rise, increasing the risk they will escape in greater numbers and increase the size and range of the feral population.
“As the Minister responsible for conservation, I am not prepared to take the risk of pet ferrets escaping and killing native birds and other native wildlife.
‘I am aware that ferret owners will be concerned by this decision. But, as New Zealanders, we all have responsibilities to ensure the survival of New Zealand's unique native wildlife.
"At present, ferrets are a minor pet species. Action is required now before their numbers proliferate and the opportunity to remove this avoidable menace will be lost forever. Put simply, the ferret is an unwanted predator anywhere in New Zealand,” Ms Lee said.
Ms Lee said ferrets have contributed to the decline of native birds like the kiwi and weka.
“This is a further step towards protecting the biodiversity of New Zealand. This Government has made conservation a priority, committing $187m in our first budget through the introduction of the New Zealand Biodiversity Strategy.
"It makes little sense to spend sizeable sums of taxpayers' money protecting native species if we then take no action to remove avoidable threats to these species such as the menace of escaped pet ferrets," Ms Lee said.