The European Mink

The European mink (Mustela lutreola) has a long, slender body with a short tail. The weasel-like mammal is usually dark brown to black, with a thin white patch around the mouth that sometimes continues down the neck. It is this contrasting marking that distinguishes them from the similar American mink (Mustela vison).

The white markings on the upper lip distinguish the European mink from its American cousin. Photo by EfAston

As a semi-aquatic species, they have a dense, short coat with a water-repellent undercoat to insulate them in the water. Excellent swimmers, their paws are webbed to help them swim, dive, and hunt underwater.

European minks are largely nocturnal, solitary animals. They have a wide range of prey from small mammals, fish, crustaceans, insects and more. They occupy large ranges, always near fresh water. A female mink may stay near a den within her territory, while males venture much farther.

The American Mink (Neovison vison). Photo by Leo-Avalon/ Flickr CC

The European mink is one of Europe’s most endangered mammals. In 2011, the species was upgraded from Endangered (EN) to Critically Endangered (CR) on the IUCN Red List. Their range has been reduced by at least 90% since the mid-19th century. The minks suffered from overexploitation for their fur in the early 20th century, leading to a weakened population. In 1926, the larger American mink was introduced to Eastern Europe to be used for its more valuable pelts. The American mink’s presence put great pressure on food and habitat availability, pushing the European mink out of much of its range. Additionally, human expansion and increased land use, as well as hydroelectric developments and water pollution has led to a fragmented population.

Currently, the European mink population exists in isolated regions in Russia, with small introduced subpopulations in France and Spain. Most of these groups are in rapid decline and low density. There are many captive breeding programs working to establish new European mink populations and add new genetic diversity to existing groups. Efforts are being made to restore and designate protected areas and maintain standing ones.

European mink range. Colors show where minks are: extant (brown), introduced (red), and possibly extinct (orange). Image created by Chermundy using IUCN Red List distribution data.

The binturong

Photo by PCSD (Palawan Council for Sustainable Development)

The binturong (Artictis binturong) is summed up by its nickname; the bearcat. With long cat-like whiskers, a long bushy tail, a thick coarse coat and a penchant for living in trees, the species is quite unique. Despite having a fairly wide distribution (the binturong is found in Borneo, Nepal, Java, Northeast India, Bangladesh, Vietnam, Laos, and Thailand), it is rare across its range.

Very little is known about the binturong. It is an omnivorous species and will eat just about anything, although it is said to have a particular affinity for the strangler fig. Their love of the strangler fig also plays an important role for the wider ecosystem as they disperse the seeds, allowing important regrowth. Their long tail can act as a fifth limb, allowing them to move easily through their forest habitat. This strong and sturdy tail is also important as the species is said to mate high up in the trees.  But as for its other behaviour and its wider role in the ecosystem, little else is known.

Across its range, the binturong is threatened  by loss of its habitat due to agricultural expansion, and hunting for the pet market, traditional medicine, and as a food source.

S.P.E.C.I.E.S is currently working to conserve the binturong, and it is one of our focal carnivore species. Information is being gathered on the species to fill in important gaps in our knowledge. Key questions such as how the binturong is affected by the expansion of agriculture and the loss of primary forest, and which areas within its range may act as strongholds for the species. are currently trying to be answered.

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