Beech marten (Martes foina)
Lovely face, dark rich fur, agile athlete, silent shadow in the darkness, a quick reflex of eyes that observe a road and meet the light of passing car, a movement in the branches of the tree just above you: A beautiful animal and… a lethal assassin.
How to present this animal and be impartial? I’ll try my best. Please open your mind because some facts I’ll tell may strike you.
There are many countries where beach marten is hunting species. In these counties one can hunt them from November to February. And in the areas where capercaillies, patridges breed one can persecute them during the whole year! In Spain, the situation is totally different. The marten population is decreasing. In the Balearic Islands, they are most probably already extinct!!!
What do beech marten do that people try to exterminate them?
Beech martens are small predators. Their thin and long body enables them to enter small holes. Their long claws permit them to climb easily. Their aliments are mammals, birds and their eggs, reptiles and even fish and frogs. But they also love to sweeten up their diet with honey and sweet fruits. No one should be surprised that sometimes, mostly when they have babies and there is an elevate demand on food, they visit farmhouses, especially the places where chickens sleep.
They approach the place silently with a lot of caution. They enter chicken house through holes that are so small nobody would think that a dangerous executioner could crawl through them. Once inside, the party starts: They kill and kill and kill. And then they leave behind a bloody disaster, as they only take a small amount of meat with them, and disappear. The next morning when the farmer opens the door… you can imagine how upset he gets.
Some naturalists claim that martens want to kill only one chicken but see themselves forced to kill all of them by the circumstance that the other chickens would start an alarm, which would reveal their presence… Anyway, once a farmer finds out a marten killed all his poultry, his feelings toward the marten change not positively.
(By the way: It’s almost impossible to kill a marten with a gun. They are extremely quick and agile. In countries where it is allowed to hunt martens, traps are used to capture them. But even so it is difficult to catch them, for they have an extraordinarily good smelling and they shun any object that smells even a little bit of human.)
Solution for the problem? Make your chicken house marten secure. If they don’t find any hole to get inside, they will turn into your helpers. The smell of chickens will attract them to your place, and the impossibility to get their favourite meal will make them look for rats and mice. They will keep the neighbourhood of your house rodent free.
Beech marten is known to enter the engine compartment of vehicles and cause large damages by biting and destroying the pipes inside. An insurance car company in Germany made a study to understand why they do it, for they lose large amounts of money every year due to this fact. Surprisingly it is not because marten would look for a warm place to hide.
What happens is that beech martens are strongly territorial and very aggressive against intruders. So, if your car stands at your home, and is used as a hiding place by “your” marten, there would be no damages. But: if you drive to visit your friend and you enter the territory of another marten, there is a problem. The marten that lives near your friends’ home immediately smells “your” marten from the interior of your car and he gets really upset. He enters your car engine compartment and like a fury destroys everything it can find and bites it to pieces.
In Germany, they offer an engine cleaning so your car would not smell of marten.
Fur clothing producers
The winter fur of beech marten counts among the furs that are used in closing. But its quality is seen as inferior to the other animals’ one, so there is not too big demand of it.
Sometimes you can find a dead body of a marten on the road. How is it possible, that so careful and agile animal ends its life beneath the tires of a car?
Many times, there is poison involved.
As I told you, martens have many enemies among humans. And, unfortunately, poison is too easily used. So, if a marten eats poison directly or digests a mouse that was empoisoned, its reflexes become slow and car may hit it. I have a friend who found a dead marten on the road, obviously killed by car, and took it home and fed it on his African vulture. The vulture died of the poison that contained the dead body of the marten. If it was not my friends’ vulture it would have been wild crows, foxes or wild boars and many small insects that would have found the dead body and would have died for eating it.
But there is also one other, more romantic, reason for losing all precaution. Love – or the need of reproduction – you can call it as you wish.
Martens lead a solitary life. By darkness they leave their hiding places, and while they search for aliments, they mark their territory, mostly by excrements, for they have an excellent sense of smelling. They do not leave their territory and nobody is welcomed there either. But when the mating season is nearing, their behaviour changes. Males run long distances to find a female with whom to mate and they forget completely about the caution and discretion that characterizes them. If two males meet each other they fight violently one against each other. If a male finds a female, they fight violently against each other as well: to prove that male is strong and violent and that his genetics would secure the female a vigorous offspring. And during these 2 – 3 weeks the martens live like in a trance and all they care about is love, love, love.
My experience with wild beech marten
My experience with beech marten was during my job in the north of Germany. We had our falcon breeding facilities in a forest area. The roof of the installation was made of corrugated boards – an ideal place for beech marten to build a nest. It was in the middle of the breeding season; the falcon nests were full of babies. So much life, so much agility, so much need: “hungry, hungry, hungry!!!” We fed our falcons 5-6 times a day, for the demand on food was enormous, and they needed only really fresh meat.
And then, one day in the morning I entered the facilities to give food to the falcon parents so they could feed the youngsters and it was so silent there! I found several falcon babies with their head bitten off. What a disaster! We immediately called our friend, a professional hunter, to come; the verdict was clear: a beech marten. And what’s more, our friend told us that it was almost sure there was a marten nest with babies inside our breeding facilities and the mother marten would come back every night to get more food for her babies.
I paid really good attention while feeding the falcons and soon I could determine in which area there was a marten nest. One could hear the voices of marten babies. Our authorities gave us special permission to look for the marten that caused us so much pain. But it was not easy to catch it, for the installation was large and it moved its babies every night. Finally we could catch the assassin mother. We gave it and its babies to our hunter friend and asked him to drive them far far away from our place.
But we realized that we didn’t solve the problem: our falcon breeding farm was in the territory of beech marten and if we got rid of one, immediately a new one would come to claim the place. And so it was. It took only several days and a new marten appeared. But that time it was a nice and coy creature that nourished on the abundance of meat rests that could be found in the falcon’ cages. It never killed any falcon and we lived together happily ever after.
End of the story.
Did you like my explanation?
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