Slinky | Long-Tailed Weasel

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My Life With Animals:  The littlest addition

It had been a few weeks and our newest little animal was settling in and starting to get more comfortable.  Every night he came home with either myself or one of the other trainers.  He got more and more gentle and started taking food nicely from us.  Then, one night, while sitting on the floor in my bathroom hanging out with him, all cuddled up in my fluffy purple blanket, he started freaking out.  This little 175g animal started doing back flips, running around with frenetic energy, throwing himself into the wall and twisting his body midair as he changed direction.   As he ran around my bathroom he looked like a pin ball being bounced off bumpers. 

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I grabbed my phone and started recording. For the next five minutes or so, he ran around and around, bouncing, flipping and flopping when suddenly he leaped into the air from the counter and flew into the bathtub!  As I sat on the floor laughing, he just continued to go until finally he just stopped.  As fast as it came on the energy had burned out.  He put himself back in his kennel, climbed into his hammock and went to sleep.  I had just witnessed the weasel war dance!!   

Early one morning in late September I had received a call from the State biologist.  “Are you interested in a long-tailed weasel”?  The first thought I had was, “duh, of course”.  I had never heard of a long-tailed weasel available in a zoo facility as an ambassador animal.  I have seen mink, and short-tailed weasels, lots of ferrets, but never a long-tailed weasel.  “Tell me about it”, I asked with extreme curiosity.  She informed me that it was a male and that someone brought it to the Monterey SPCA but she didn’t know much more.  She said that she would have them contact me.  

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I started thinking, “There’s never a shortage of animals who need a home.  It seems as if we can cannot educate enough people fast enough that wild animals do not make pets”.  Whether a mountain lion or chimpanzee or a magpie or turtle, wild animals have special requirements that go well beyond those of a domesticated dog or cat.  Almost every week I receive a phone call or email asking if I can take an animal for Turtle Bay.  Sometimes it is an unwanted pet like a parrot or turtle, other times it is the California Department of Wildlife needing to place a  confiscated or abandoned animal.  My job is to figure out which animals we can care for properly while creating the best diverse education programs for our guests.  


The lady at the SPCA gave me his background.  His story is like so many before him and he will sadly, not be the last.  Someone was keeping him as a pet.  The worst part is that the people bringing in the animals rarely tell the truth.  They don’t want to say that they stole an animal from the wild and illegally kept it as a pet, so they make up a story that they think is plausible.  They claimed that some children found him on the side of the road sitting with a collar on so they took it off and a woman came by and saw this and took the animal from them and brought it to the SPCA.  The reality is more likely something like this:   Someone either took him from the wild or their cat grabbed it as a baby and brought it home and the people “saved” it from the cat.  Then, although illegal, decided to keep it as a pet.  After a year, when the baby stage wore off and they realize that even small, this animal is wild and too much to handle, they turn it in.  But knowing that what they did is illegal, they make up some bogus story that makes them look like the hero.  How do I know that their story is not true?  If you meet him for just a minute while he is awake, you will know why.  He never stops moving, he is like a wind up toy running around erratically and he will not tolerate being picked up.  Trying to touch him is like trying to get two sides of the same magnet to stick together.  There is no way this animal was  just sitting on the side of the road and just let some kids pick him up and remove a collar.  

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So, I agreed to take him.  “This will be great”, I thought.  We need another small animal like Sweet Pea, our skunk, that one person can handle and work alone to bring to educational programs.  The SPCA showed me photos and videos of how calm he was so we should have him out on programs in no time.  So I drove three hours to meet them half way and pick  him up.  He was running around a small soft sided cat carrier.  He was adorable.  I got situated in the car, unzipped a corner of the carrier door and reached my finger in.  Before I could react, he reached up with his cute little nose and proceeded to sink his tiny needle teeth right into my finger.  “Owww”!!!  He bit me!!  I turned to my husband, “Clearly not as tame as they said”. But in all fairness, I should have known better.  He was in a new place with new smells and was on guard.  I don’t know what I was thinking.  

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We decided to name him Slinky.   He really looked like the slinky dog on Toy Story.  We spent the next few weeks learning all about long-tailed weasels.  Most impressive to us was the war dance.  In the wild, these tiny carnivores will usually prey on small rodents but one of their favorite meals is of rabbit.  Even a small rabbit is three times their size but they are no match for their creative hunting method.  It is simple… freak out!!  The weasels will dart around frantically, do flips and  roll onto their back.  During the manic episode, the rabbits are stunned, sort of frozen in some sort of confusion.  With every movement, the weasel gets closer and closer to the rabbit who is just sitting in a trans.  Then, BAM, the weasel grabs the rabbit by the throat.  Now I know it sounds pretty gruesome, but it is the most interesting, crazy hunting method I have ever seen and all we wanted to do was witness it.  


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After seeing the war dance for the first time, we just couldn’t get enough.  We started setting up the bathroom with toys that we thought we invoke it.  But we couldn’t figure out the trigger.  The next few nights he  would run around as he always did and then suddenly the war  dance would start.  Sometimes it was to chase a little ball but other times it just started at random with no particular target in mind.  Regardless, we would grab a camera, and just enjoy the moment as we laughed and laughed.  I know that this 170g tube of fur and fury is going to bring our guests the same joy.   


Sharon Clay

Curator of Animal Programs


“One touch of nature makes the whole world kin”