THE ORIGIN OF RUSSIAN FERRETS
In our opinion, four general historically existing populations of domestic ferrets exist now in the world: European, Australian (including Australia and New Zealand), Russian (including all ex-soviet countries and some East-European countries) and American (Northern and Southern America). American and Australian populations came from European population in XIX century and developed mainly independently since then. Russian population of domestic ferrets also has European roots.
In the beginning of 1970s soviet fitch farms began to breed wild polecats (Mustela putorius). In 1971 a well-known zoologist Dmitry Ternovsky imported furo (albino ferrets) to USSR from Prague's Zoo. Dr. Ternovsky with other biologists cleared up the question about the origin and taxonomy of furo and proved that furo is an albino form of Mustela putorius. At the same time he began experimental crossings between furo and wild polecats, steppe polecats (Mustela eversmanni) and European minks (Mustela lutreola). You can read about these hybrids in the chapter "Hybrids between Mustelidae. Khonoriks".
As a result of crossing between furo and wild polecats he bred 3 colours of ferrets: goldish, pearl and pastel. In 1977 Soviet fitch farms began to breed these colours for fur.
In the beginning of 1980s ferrets got some popularity as pets, but soviet government promulgated a law against keeping and breeding fur-bearing animals by private persons. The object of this law was to prevent illegal small fitch farms. When Perestroika began the law was cancelled and people started to pay attention to ferrets again.
Till the middle of 1990s a very few people have kept ferrets. Sudden increase of popularity of ferrets as pets began in 1999-2003. People bought them in fitch farms and in pet markets; there were not enough small breeders at that time. According to our data by August 2005 55% of all ferrets were rescued from fitch farms, 45% originated from small breeders (30% in the first, 10% in the second and 5% - in the 3rd generation). Overwhelming majority of ferret owners and small breeders are concentrated in Moscow and S.-Petersburg, but also there are a few located in Kaliningrad, Samara, Khabarovsk, Saratov, Novosibirsk.
Distinction of Russian ferrets
In comparison with American and European ferrets, Russian ferrets are bigger (body weight of a male reaching 1.8-3.2 kg), have more bushy fur and other body proportions. We haven't data yet about the life span of our animals, because in general ferrets are kept as pets no longer than 4-6 years. We also have no data about frequency of occurrence of different diseases, but it is already known that adrenal disease is very rare in the Russian population.