The European mink

This year, Eurofurence will be supporting the European mink, the most endangered carnivore in all of Europe. Your donations will help Foundation Lutreola in Estonia in their tireless work to create permanent habitats for the minks, as well as operating a successful breeding program.

A short introduction

The European mink (Mustela lutreola) is a semiaquatic mustelid that was once widespread throughout Europe, with a range that extended from the Ural mountains in Russia to eastern Spain and from Finland to the Black Sea. Since the nineteenth century, however, its range has dwindled drastically such that it is now in danger of becoming extinct. There is no known large population of European mink surviving in the wild.

The decline of this characteristic small carnivore is due to the combination of several causes, including habitat loss and degradation, and over-hunting.

The role of the American mink, that was introduced to Europe for its fur more than a century ago, has however been and continues to be the key-factor in the downfall of the European mink. Due to overlapping habitat and food preferences, combined with its higher reproductive efficiency, the introduced American mink out-competes the European mink everywhere where both species occur.

Foundation Lutreola

Tiit Maran, an Estonian biologist, was shocked by the disappearance of European mink all across its former range. To keep this amazing animal from extinction, Tiit started a captive breeding program with 22 founder animals at Tallinn Zoo in 1984. A few years later, Tiit set up the European mink Conservation committee, from which Foundation Lutreola was established in 1992. Foundation Lutreola aims to reestablish a vital population of European mink in Estonia, but also promotes conservation of this native species across Europe.

Back to nature

After intensive research the small Estonian island Hiiumaa was found to be suitable as a safe reintroduction site. After the removal of American mink, the first European mink returned to the wild in 2000. Despite many setbacks in the reintroduction process, Foundation Lutreola continued its important work, releasing and monitoring almost 600 minks on Hiiumaa. Thirteen years after the initial release, finally, a big success could be celebrated: the first wild European minks were born!

To date, the European mink population on Hiiumaa Island is stable, counting around 150 individuals before winter. Yet, it needs support by improving mink habitats in the island. One simple way to achieve this is to dig or renovate frog spawning ponds, since frogs are the mink’s favorite food. This is also beneficial for other rare and endangered species, mainly invertebrates.

Future wishes

The little Hiiumaa island is only the first tiny step in the return of this charismatic little carnivore in Europe. Foundation Lutreola already put its eyes on a new territory: the twice as big, neighboring island Saaremaa. To inhabit this island with enough European mink, more funds are needed for research, safeguarding the habitat, the captive breeding program in Tallinn, releases, monitoring and more in the future.

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