Species: European mink (Mustela lutreola)
Status: Critically Endangered (CR)
Interesting Fact: The European mink is one of Europe’s most endangered mammals.
Weighing up to a maximum of 1kg, the European mink is the smaller relative of the American mink (Neovison vison). A distinctive mark of white around the upper and lower lips of the European mink can help to distinguish between the two species.
This species is mainly nocturnal, hunting and feeding at night on a variety of prey including water voles, birds, frogs, molluscs, crabs, fish and insects. It is able to hunt both on land and in water across large home ranges of up to 15km of river. Partly webbed feet and a thick, water-repellent undercoat mean that the European mink is well suited to its semi-aquatic lifestyle.
A century ago the European mink could be found throughout the European continent, but its population is thought to have since declined by over 90%. In 2011, the IUCN upgraded the status of the European mink from Endangered (EN) to Critically Endangered (CR) due to ongoing population decline.
This severe decline is a result of various threats, including habitat loss, commercial trapping for fur, competition from the introduced American mink and accidental mortality through pest control, poisoning and vehicle collisions. The European mink is also susceptible to Aleutian disease, a highly contagious virus that causes an often lethal infection.
Captive breeding programmes are underway for this species in an attempt to successfully establish new European mink populations. Further research is being undertaken to assess the viability of captive breeding as a technique for the conservation of this species. In Spain and France, the populations of European mink seem to be suffering from inbreeding, a problem which could be addressed by the introduction of new, captive-bred individuals.
The European mink is legally protected in all the countries in which it occurs.
Phoebe Shaw Stewart, ARKive Text Author