human attitudes to wild creatures are not, as we would like to think, reasonable. There is hardly any better demonstration of this than the story of how people think about weasels. Contradictions and misconceptions are the stuff of common knowledge, mostly because, until recently, not much was known about weasels. So, people simply projected their own ideas onto the real animals.
There are two main streams of opinion, held by people with different interests. Both start from what seems to be an obvious fact: Weasels appear to be ultra-efficient killing machines specializing on small mammals and birds. Both assume, therefore, that predation by weasels is capable of controlling the populations of these animals, even though in fact it rarely does (Chapter 7). One group concludes that all weasels must be killed on sight to protect birds, especially game birds—even though other predators often take even more birds than weasels do, depending on the habitat. The other group concludes that all weasels must be preserved, and even spread around, to protect farms and plantations from the ravages of pest mammals such as rodents and rabbits.
In our opinion, both views are largely misguided when applied to weasels in their native environments in the northern hemisphere. Weasels introduced as aliens into a totally different environment such as New Zealand are a different matter (Chapter 13), although, even there, some still argue that stoats have a compensating value in controlling rabbits and rats (Fitzgerald & Gibb 2001).
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