WITH all the restrictions, rules and policies currently being implemented to control the spread of Covid, the last thing you’d think governments need to worry about is ferrets.

However the Welsh Government recently introduced plans for ferret owners to register their pets in a new national database, which the government hopes will help in the fight to contain the spread of the virus.

The register is to be implemented partly due to outbreaks of Covid which were found in captive mink populations earlier this year.

Minks are very closely related to the ferret. The first outbreak of Covid to be reported in Europe was in a mink farm in the Netherlands, followed by a farm in Denmark. This led the Danish Government to hire University of Copenhagen veterinary pathologist Anne Sofie Hammer who described sites as ‘serious, unrecognised animal reservoirs’ of coronavirus.

The situation has proved serious enough for the UK Government Animal and Plant Health Agency to put together a guidance document on ‘preventative measures regarding SARS-CoV-2 and ferrets in the UK’.

“There are no mink farms,” reads the document. “But nevertheless, we are concerned about the possibility of infection in the closely related population of ferrets.

“The usual transmission route is from infected people to mink, but in a small number of cases, the infection has spread back from mink to people.”

In more concerning circumstances, a variant in humans was found to be less respondent to vaccines than those transmitted between human to human.

The document went on: “In Denmark, one particular variant found in a small number of people was less readily killed by human antibodies than other variants, which raised concerns it could impact on the effectiveness of therapeutic interventions, e.g. vaccination.”

Once you dig a little deeper you see the severity of the issue, however here in Pembrokeshire the local ferret population is not one to be feared according a local animal rescue centre.

Greenacres Rescue in Haverfordwest has worked with ferrets in the past and currently has some animals on site.

Centre manager Mikey Lawlor says ferrets are being targeted for something that isn’t their fault, emphasising that if the virus passes between ferret and human it’s journey would have begun in the human in the first place.

“Ferrets contract Covid if a human brings it to them.

“You have far more chance of catching the virus in your local supermarket than you do from ferrets.

“As long as you are looking after your ferrets and maintaining them in a Covid safe manner then there is no risk to the owner or their ferrets.”

Perhaps this is a more measured response to that of the Netherlands, the country only recently having finished killing its several million minks to prevent further outbreaks.

It could also be viewed as a more realistic response than some others suggested such as vigorous testing of minks and those that come into contact with them, and, in one case, genome sequencing.

The register is another measured approach, but with some figures ranging up to 100,000 estimated domesticated ferrets in the UK (*PFMA; Pet Food Manufacturers Association), and a government spokesperson admitting only 240 ferret owners have given their details so far, is it effective?

Chief Veterinary Officer for Wales, Christianne Glossop says the register is a precautionary measure allowing prompt advice to owners.

“By signing up, keepers will be informed on how to reduce the risk of the virus spreading including to their ferrets and themselves,” said Ms Glossop.

A Welsh Government spokesperson said: “The ferret register is operating on a UK-wide level and has been created to help owners keep themselves and their animals safe and healthy.

“In the first month we understand there had been 242 mustelinae registered in Wales and England which is in line with what would be expected at this time.”

If you're a ferret owner and wish to find out more information on registering, go to gov.wales/advice-pet-owners-coronavirus-covid-19