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Ferret Legging: An Endurance Sport

Beth is a teacher and writer. She is fascinated by quirky facts and bizarre events.

A ferret is a carnivore and has sharp white teeth.

A ferret is a carnivore and has sharp white teeth.

The Sport of Ferret Legging

This competitive sport brings a whole new meaning to the question “who wears the trousers?” It involves taking a live animal, sometimes two, and holding them prisoner inside someone’s trousers. That someone is almost always male, as most females have too much sense to do something so daft.

If you’ve never seen a ferret, it is a small carnivore about 12 inches long. They are a member of the polecat family and have sharp incisor teeth. Their bite is deep and painful. It’s often used by poachers to catch rabbits and other small prey. To make this sport more exciting for spectators, the ferrets used will have been deliberately kept hungry before the contest.

In a ferret-legging competition, they are placed down the front of a man’s trousers (still being worn by the man) and prevented from exiting as the ankle cuffs are tied tight. The winner of the competition is the person who can withstand the pain of being bitten in their nether regions for the longest time.

The Ancient Art of Ferret Legging

There is some dispute about how old the sport of ferret-legging really is. In the UK, the height of its popularity was during the 1970s. Interest from international visitors as well as local tourists contributed to its continuing acceptance for around 30 years. However, there were growing protests about the cruelty of this sport, and ferret legging competitions were eventually stopped in the UK in 2010 on the grounds of animal cruelty.

Ferrets have been domesticated for at least 2,500 years. Their remains have been found in archaeological sites that date back to around 1500 BC. They are used by gamekeepers and poachers to help catch vermin; hence the use of the term to ferret out (hunt) rabbits from their burrows. The origin of ferret legging as an endurance sport is unknown. There is a theory that ferrets were carried inside a man’s clothing to keep the animal warm in winter as the pair hunted. This led to some people developing a “thicker skin” than others. Perhaps they boasted about how they were not afraid of being bitten by their pet ferrets and that led to competitions to prove their claim.

Ferret Legging World Record Holders

Year RecordedRecord HolderTime Achieved

1972

Unknown

40 seconds

1981

Reg Mellor

5 hours 26 minutes

2010

Frank Bartlett

5 hours 32 minutes

2010

Christine Farnsworth

5 hours 32 minutes

World Records for Ferret Legging

The first competition to set a world record in ferret-legging was held in 1972. A mere 40 seconds was declared the winning entry. Over the next 10 years, men (and a few women) increased their endurance. By 1981, a world record time for ferret-legging of five hours and 26 minutes was set. This record was held from 1981 to 2010 by Reg Mellor from Barnsley, Yorkshire, UK.

In 2010, Reg’s record was beaten by six minutes by two people. The event was controversial and became the last world record attempt at ferret-legging to be held in the UK. The record stands and the current world record for ferret legging is still five hours and 32 minutes. It is held jointly by Frank Bartlett and Christine Farnsworth.

The 2010 Ferret Legging World Record Event

Frank Bartlett and Christine Farnsworth achieved their world records in ferret-legging at a charity fundraiser held at Whittington, Yorkshire, UK. By beating the previous record holder, they managed to raise over £1,000 for a local charity, the Whittington Community First Responders. First responders are volunteers who are trained in basic first aid in order that they can be the first at an accident or emergency to administer life-saving help.

But this charity organized ferret-legging competition provoked an outcry from people against animal cruelty, as well as from first aid volunteers. Animal welfare organizations said that to hold a terrified, hungry ferret captive for more than five hours to beat a world record was cruel and unnecessary. First aiders complained that raising money by causing injury to the competitors (from bites by the frightened animals) sent a contradictory message to spectators and supporters of their life-saving work. As a result of these protests, there have been no further ferret legging competitions, of any kind, held in the UK since 2010.

Ferret Legging in North America

The ban in the UK on the sport has not prevented it continuing in other countries. Ferret-legging contests were held regularly at the Richmond Celtic and Highland Games in Virginia, USA from 2003 to 2009. In recent years animal campaigners have tried to prevent ferret-legging contests wherever they can. As a result the sport is on the wane.

The video below shows a ferret-legging competition in progress. Someone once said that “Ferret-leggers take solace in the knowledge that however wretched their sport may be, it will always be one step above competitive eating.” There’s no easy answer to that.

Competitive Ferret Legging in Action

Ferret Family Relations

Ferrets are a member of the Mustelidae family. This is the same family class as weasels, polecats and badgers. Ferrets are mammals and carnivores. The females produce young two or three times per year. Each litter has between three and seven kits. A male ferret is called a hob, a female is a jill. Their offspring are known as kits. The collective noun for them is a business of ferrets.

Ferrets mark their territory by leaving a wipe of scent that uniquely identifies them to other ferrets. The scent is produced from their anal glands which they smear onto leaves or undergrowth to mark their presence. Just like skunks, ferrets may also release this pungent scent if they are startled or frightened. If you want to learn more about these intelligent animals, I recommend you read Tell Me All About Ferrets.

Weasel War Dance

This term is used to refer to the behavior displayed by excited ferrets and weasels. The war dance consists of frenzied leaps and zig-zag movements. The ferret appears almost as if it is in a trance. It will clumsily bump into things as it hops, skips and jumps; backwards, sideways and forwards.

Research in Australia showed that male ferrets are more likely to do a war dance than female ferrets. The “Effect of captivity and management on behavior of the domestic ferret” by Sarah Talbot et al. was published in the “Applied Animal Behavior Science Journal” (December 2013). A total of 466 domestic ferrets were involved in the study, the aim of which was to observe the effects of different types of housing on the behavior of male, female and neutered ferrets.

Unsurprisingly, the animals that were housed in better conditions including things to make their captive environment more interesting, showed more playful behavior than those whose cages just met minimum standards. The weasel war dance was categorized as a playful behavior in this study.

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