Wildlife experts were celebrating as this record-breaking litter of TEN healthy polecat kittens was hailed a triumph for a national breeding programme.
The tiny kittens may look cute but are also some of nature’s most effective predators and instrumental in helping farmers control rat and rabbit populations.
Polecats are being reintroduced into the wild after becoming totally extinct in England and Scotland during the Victorian era as a result of persecution by gamekeepers.
Small pockets survived in Wales and after the Second World War wildlife parks nationwide started working with independent breeders to expand the population.
A wild litter will normally produce just four to six kittens and expert Leslie Harmer, 60, said 10 was the largest she had bred in captivity in 20 years of running the programme.
Leslie, who has bred ”hundreds” of polecats over the years, said: ”Polecats were annihilated in most parts of the UK because gamekeepers wiped them out.
”These are natural little predators that work well in the natural hierarchy. There are many rodents that cause problems for cereal farmers and pole cats help keep them in check.
”This is a fantastic litter of good-sized kittens with no runts, I’ve never heard of any of this size.”
The eight-inch-long kittens, born at Shepreth Wildlife Park, Cambs., on April 17 will remain in captivity with proud mum Moonshadow, five, until September.
Once they start exhibiting dispersal behaviour and fighting in earnest they will be released locally at the request of farmers who need help with pest control.
At the moment they are nameless but Leslie said she planned to name them after Cambridge University colleges.
She said: ”Maybe a college will adopt one as a mascot as they were born locally. It’s all thanks to the hard work here at Shepreth.
”Farmers have asked for them to be released nearby as they are much better than using poison for keeping rats down.
”Hopefully we will also be able to get students involved in tracking them.”