ESR 12:107-115 (2010)  -  DOI: https://doi.org/10.3354/esr00299

Post-release survival of orphaned wild-born polecats Mustela putorius reared in captivity at a wildlife rehabilitation centre in England

Andrew Kelly1,2,*, Robert Scrivens1, Adam Grogan3

1RSPCA Stapeley Grange Wildlife Centre, London Rd., Stapeley, Nantwich, Cheshire CW5 7JW, UK
2School of Biological Sciences, Medical Biology Centre, Queen’s University Belfast, 97 Lisburn Road, Belfast BT9 7BL, UK
3RSPCA, Wildlife Department, Wilberforce Way, Southwater, Horsham, West Sussex RH13 9RS, UK

ABSTRACT: Many thousands of rehabilitated wildlife casualties and captive-reared orphans are released back to the wild each year. Most wildlife rehabilitators equate release with success, and very little is known about the post-release survival of rehabilitated wildlife. We measured the post-release survival of orphaned polecats Mustela putorius, a species of conservation concern and currently a UK Biodiversity Action Plan (BAP) priority species. Between 1997 and 2008, 137 polecats were admitted to the RSPCA (Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals) Stapeley Grange Wildlife Centre in northwest England. Of these, 89 (65%) were orphaned juveniles. Forty-three percent of adults and 89% of juveniles were released back to the wild following rehabilitation. Between 2005 and 2008, we radio-tracked 32 juvenile polecats at 5 release sites in Cheshire and North Wales, UK. These individuals were tracked for 3 to 104 d (median = 27.5). Of the 32 radio-tracked animals, 26 (81%) were still alive after 14 d, and a minimum of 16 (50%) were still alive after 1 mo. Twelve percent were known to have died in road traffic collisions, 22% shed their collars, and the signal was lost for 56%. Those for which the signal was eventually lost were tracked for 13 to 103 d (median = 38.5 d). Two female polecats trapped following release in 2007 had lost 30% and 18% of their body weight, respectively. The data suggest that the survival of rehabilitated polecats is sufficient to justify the resources used in the rehabilitation process and that the animals’ long-term welfare is not compromised by being held in captivity.


KEY WORDS: Polecat · Mustela putorius · Post-release survival · Wildlife rehabilitation · Restoration ecology


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Cite this article as: Kelly A, Scrivens R, Grogan A (2010) Post-release survival of orphaned wild-born polecats Mustela putorius reared in captivity at a wildlife rehabilitation centre in England. Endang Species Res 12:107-115. https://doi.org/10.3354/esr00299

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