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Dancing with Badgers,

Waltzing Wolverines, Skunks that Jig

My love affair with the mustelids — badger, wolverine, skunk, weasel, otter, and mink — probably began in high school. I was a child in Panama, where the mustelids are obscure specialists like the grison and the tayra. The whole family was nothing but concepts for me. Our pets were exotic enough, marmosets and parrots. But weasels? They were not real like cats but abstract and alien like Antarctica, creatures of cartoons and encyclopedias. We returned to the U.S. when I was ten, to Colorado, and after a couple more years, we were transferred to Japan, where we stayed till my senior year of high school. I lived five years in Japan oblivious to the tanuki, a kami (spirit character) often called "badger" (he's not one) and a key figure, like the fox and the monkey, in Japanese folklore. I knew skunks et al. existed, but I had no particular interest in them. I'd never seen one, for starters, except in the zoo. The wolverine I'd never even heard of; if you had told me chinchillas were related to minks, I would have nodded agreeably. Fur coat animals; uh-hunh.

Weasel, by Ernest Seton Thompson

From that ignorance I have developed, over a period of nearly forty years, affection and fascination for these diverse carnivores, so little attended to in our folklore or even our zoology. A search on "mustelids" at yields three out-of-print technical books. A search on "badgers" turns up about a hundred titles, many of them part of the Russell Hoban children's series or the Brian Jacques' Redwall novels. "Wolverines"? Twenty-four titles, most of them about Michigan and their mascots. And "weasels"? A handful of children's books among 36 titles, with two discussions of the actual animals. Of the whole 150-odd books turned up with four searches, only one, Bil Gilbert's The Weasels: A Sensible Look at a Family of Predators, actually might be read by an adult with less than a specialist's interest in the topic. And it's out of print. (I cheated a bit; if I'd tried "skunks" or "ferrets," I'd have better results.)

So I launch my private campaign of appreciation, a series of essays, primarily personal, on these grand individualists, little understood and certainly under-appreciated. Enjoy. I won't guarantee as fun a read as My Friend Flicka, but these are creatures you will be glad to know better, even if you still prefer to keep them at a distance.

— Mick McAllister

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