Stanice Pavlov, a recognised animal rescue station in the Czech-Moravian highlands, succeeded after several years of set-backs in successfully breeding a litter of European mink. The European mink, an endangered animal, has disappeared from most of continental Europe as its natural habitat – wetlands – became more and more rare. And that’s not the only detrimental factor.
I spoke to the director of the Pavlov rescue centre Zbyšek Karafiát, who confirmed the four mink young, born in May, were healthy and would soon be named. He told me how the situation for European mink had grown so precarious.
“The European mink, once common across the continent, is very much endangered and the factors which led to this are several: one was the disappearance of wetlands and meadows and flood-plain forest. The second factor is that they used to be hunted for their fur and third they have been driven out and today prevented from returning to the wild by the American mink.
“The American species was bred on farms for their pelts but some escaped and bred in the wild. They are twice as big as the European mink and have no natural predator; the European mink was driven out.”
Zbyšek Karafiát points out an additional factor was that while American and European mink could try and mate, the animals are unable to successfully crossbreed. The rescue station’s director again:
“The American male chases away the European one and mates and can impregnate the European female, but the embryos never survive but die at a certain point. This badly disrupts the female’s reproduction cycle – for the year – and further leads to dwindling population numbers.”
Indeed, the two adult mink kept at Pavlov are the only ones in the entire Czech Republic, the male originally provided from the zoo in Děčín and the female from the zoo in Tallinn, Estonia, under the European Endangered Species Program. To successfully breed, the animals need to be made to feel secure in their surroundings and stress can mar even success, with the parents killing the offspring. That was not the case this year.
“Last year the mother killed her young within the space of a week, eating them so we had to be very careful for that not to happen again. Generally-speaking not enough is known about the reproduction process of these mink but we know that stress can play a huge role and that they are very susceptible to it, that is what happened before. This year, we were very careful that their keeper was the only one that basically entered their surroundings with food, someone the animals could trust, and the space was left exactly as the animals wanted it, in certain disarray in which they are comfortable. So this year’s breeding, we believe, was a success.”
What’s next for the European mink being raised at Pavlov? Zbyšek Karafiát says the future of the young has yet to be decided but some of the young, when they are older will be relocated to different parts of Europe. He said he expected that the females would remain at the station he heads, that under the existing program they would receive a new male for breeding and that the males would be sent abroad.
Of course, the role of the Pavlov Centre, as successful as it has been this year is greater than just raising endangered mink. Zbyšek Karafiát once more:
“We serve the entire region of Vysočina and other animals we are currently caring for include four otters, numerous birds of prey including an Imperial eagle, a Peregrine falcon, a red kite, and many others including a small population of endangered hours of which only 70 are left in the wild. Our role is also to teach environmental issues to children and school kids who visit throughout the year. Kids learn about the animals and we see about 5,000 visitors each year.”
And while the work never ends, those who work at the animal rescue station are heartened by the fact that locals continue to report when they spot hurt animals or animals in distress, so they can be successfully treated and cared for.
“That is our main aim: we can always help, at weekends, on holidays. Right now we are in a period when we most often treat young, from various birds to hares. Sometimes people mistakenly bring young in, so we care for those animals too. Then there are all numbers of rare species which get hurt and likely wouldn’t recover on their own. Thanks to people who notice, they have a chance at survival and at returning to the wild.”