After an 11-month undercover investigation, state game wardens cracked down on ferret fanciers over the last week, raiding homes in Los Angeles, Orange and San Bernardino counties and issuing citations against seven people accused of illegally keeping 36 of the weasel-like animals as pets.
Officials of the State Department of Fish and Game said those cited in the raids, including three in Los Angeles County, would be charged with violations of state laws that prohibit the possession, transportation and importation of ferrets. Officials also seized six desert tortoises, three polecats and a raccoon.
Curt Taucher, a department spokesman, said the raids were carried out between last Thursday and Monday night.
He said the investigation began in April after agents saw a newspaper ad featuring ferrets for sale and a state undercover agent bought one, then continued making contact with underground breeders of the animals.
Ferrets, also known as “European polecats,” are in the weasel and raccoon family. State officials estimate that there are 250,000 to 500,000 being kept illegally in California and say they sell for as much as $5,000.
Although owners say the animals make good pets, state laws forbid the breeding and sale of ferrets because they pose a hazard to children and wildlife, Taucher said. Ferrets carry a strain of rabies that cannot be eliminated by any known vaccine.
Patricia Richards, a Yucaipa woman who heads the Southern California Ferret Assn., was one of those cited by state game wardens, who also raided homes in Los Angeles, Lawndale and Sherman Oaks. Richards, who lost 22 ferrets, accused state agents of a setup.
Taucher said that although Richards has “every right to advocate legalizing ferrets,” she is not free to own them.
Each violation she and the others face carries a maximum penalty of six months imprisonment and a $1,000 fine.