THE FIERCE AND FASCINATING CAPE POLECAT

The Cape polecat (Ictonyx striatus), or African Striped Weasel/Zorilla, is a remarkable species found throughout sub-Saharan Africa. Despite its name, it is not related to either polecats, cats nor skunks – rather it belongs to the weasel family. It plays an integral part in keeping Val de Vie Estate’s ecosystem healthy and thriving.

The Cape Polecat is instantly recognisable for its distinctive black and white striped back and tail, as well as its characteristic musky smell that it releases as a form of protection. This small animal remains a formidable hunter, preying on rodents, insects and even snakes.

The distinctive Cape Polecat is renowned for its unusual mating rituals. During the breeding season, males will spray their environment with a strong-scented chemical to mark their territory and vie for a female’s attention. If the male is successful in his pursuits, a peculiar mating ceremony ensues: he and the female stand on their hind legs and rotate around each other in tight circles.

Despite its distinctiveness and mesmerizing behaviour, the Cape polecat is endangered due to habitat destruction and fur hunting. Conservation initiatives have been launched to safeguard this captivating creature, however, much remains to be done in order for it to remain thriving in the wild.

INFO BOX:

  • They are expert diggers and often burrow into the ground to escape predators or search for food
  • One of its favourite meals is mole crickets, which are considered garden pests
  • Polecats have a varied diet and even eats carrionwhich they locate using their acute hearing and sense of smell.
  • Polecats are often incorrectly called skunks, which are found in North and South America. While both animals are small carnivorous mammals and both release a foul-smelling spray from their anal glands, the Cape polecat and skunk have differences in their appearance, habitat, and anatomy.
  • Polecats are primarily nocturnal, meaning they are most active at night. During the day, they typically rest in dens that they dig themselves or that have been abandoned by other animals.
  • Unlike other members of the weasel family, Cape polecats are not social animals and prefer to live alone. They are known for their aggressive and territorial behaviour towards other animals.
  • If your dog gets too close to a polecat, it may receive a dose of its defensive spray which has an intense smell that can linger for days. Fortunately bathing the pooch with milk helps to remove it.
  • In Afrikaans a polecat is called a ‘stinkmuishond’.

INFO BOX:

WEASEL FAMILY (MUSTELIDAE)
Polecats
Weasels
Otters
Badgers

MONGOOSE FAMILY (HERPESTIDAE)
Mongooses
Meerkats
Civets

SCAN THE QR CODE FOR A VIDEO OF A PAIR OF CAPE POLECATS THAT WERE CAPTURED IN VAL DE VIE EVERGREEN AND RELEASE IN THE BIODIVERSITY CORRIDOR

QR-code to polecats being release: 

https://youtu.be/Da14OplS14g