Ferret owners want pets made legal
Ferret owners in a US state have launched a campaign to overturn a ban on the animals which has stood for nearly 80 years.
California is the only US state besides Hawaii that bans residents from keeping ferrets as pets, forcing many Californians to keep their beloved weasels hidden from the public.
But these renegade ferret lovers are ramping up their campaign to persuade politicians, wildlife regulators and the public that it is time to overturn the long-standing ban.
"There is no reason the ownership of the domesticated ferret should be illegal in California," Pat Wright, who heads the Legalise Ferrets campaign, told the California Fish and Game Commission. "These guys are part of our family. The pet-human bond is a strong one, and you're stepping on it."
State wildlife regulators say escaped or discarded ferrets could establish feral populations and threaten native wildlife, such as nesting birds, rabbits and squirrels.
"We are already overrun with non-native species in the state of California," said Jim Kellogg, the commission's president. "There's no reason for us to legalise one more animal that could come into California and do damage to our native species."
Wildlife officials say ferrets also pose a threat to small children, pointing to reports that a four-month-old baby in Missouri had several fingers chewed off by his family's pet ferret in January.
Despite the ban, California is believed to have more ferrets than any other state. The pet industry estimates that about a quarter of the nation's ferret care supplies are sold in California, where ferret owners can have their pets confiscated and be prosecuted for a criminal misdemeanour.
Mr Kellogg says the state should enforce the ban on ferrets and even the sale of ferret supplies, but the Department of Fish and Game does not have the resources for strong enforcement.
"We know they're here," Mr Kellogg said, but the state's overstretched game wardens "have way more important issues than cracking down on ferrets".