The Least Weasel (Mustela nivalis)... resident of my garden
During our first week at our new home, I saw this little blur of brown and white fur run out of the garden, spin in a circle, and run right back in. It was too sleek to be a rat, so I asked one of the locals about it. He was standing with two other men, and he was the only one who spoke English, a little. I described what I saw, and he translated to the other two men. The one in the back held up his hands just under a foot (30 cm) apart and raised his eyebrows in question. Yeah, that was about the size of it, I nodded.
"Ah, niñito," he said nodding.
"Ah, niñito, yes," the other two men assuredly nodded as well.
That name seemed a bit familiar. About 10 minutes later, I was rolling my eyes after reading the google definition: Diminutive of niño small child.
This is obviously the local name for the animal. Not helpful.
A little more looking, and I discovered the animal was likely the Least Weasel. It is the smallest member of the Weasel Family (Mustelidae) as well as the smallest member of the Carnivore Order (Carnivora). It is found throughout Europe and on islands in the Atlantic (including ours in the Azores!), the Mediterranean, and Japan. It feeds mostly on rodents, and it can kill and carry an animal up to 10 times its own weight!
Then a few weeks later (a couple of days ago), right at dusk, I was standing on the porch overlooking the garden, when I saw a little furry critter slowly creep out from under the large clump of aloe plants. This clump is about ten feet (3 meters) long by four feet (1.2 meters) wide. He (or she) stepped out, walked around for about 20 seconds, and then scampered back under the aloe. Definitely a Least Weasel. Almost cute.
My first thought when I saw him come out was, "Oh great, these things can kill birds. I want to get some chickens." I wondered if I was going to have to "get rid" of the weasel somehow. But I almost immediately thought of the story of the Bullock brothers.
These three brothers had decided to start a Permaculture project on one of the islands off the coast of northwestern Washington state. They had worked for a few years to restore the flora at the water's edge including planting some "wild" foods that they also enjoyed eating, like cattails. They had a good harvest for a year, and then they noticed that most of their cattails were being raided. They eventually realized it was muskrats. As they had started to restore the land, the animals were coming back, and they were eating some of the brothers' harvest. Instead of trapping them or killing them, they decided to let nature be. For a few years, they continued to lose their cattail harvest. Then one year it seemed that the muskrats were gone. It turned out that now, thanks to a healthy muskrat population, the otters and eagles had moved back to the area, and they were feeding on the muskrats. The brothers were able to harvest some cattails again, but they shared some with the muskrats as well, and a more complex and stable food web and ecosystem was restored.
I have done something similar in the past (see my article: Hold the chemicals... see what happens!), but it was on a much, much smaller scale. However, the priciple is the same.
So, we will see what happens.
The other logical way to look at it is this... If the Least Weasel in my garden eats mice and rats and other rodents, and I have seen mice and rats in my neighborhood and in my neighbors backyard, but I have not seen any of these pests in my house or yard, then this guy is doing me a service. I will not only let him be, but I will welcome his stay.
Now we have a weasel as a neighbor.