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Furry little fellers with sharp teeth and long memories

"THEY'RE VICIOUS, they're cunning, they're randy and, interestingly, they have their own sophisticated honour system based on the Shing Fu Commandments of Samurai warriors," a Ministry of the Environment spokesman revealed yesterday when I rang for an update on events that have had families in the New Forest barricading themselves in. "But frankly the last thing we want is for people going around seeing the mink as Beelzebub in a small fur coat."

"But they've already mugged a fisherman."

"Yes, they learn very quickly. One of them wandered up to him, chatted casually about whether Le Tiss should come off the bench down at the Dell and then - bang! The other mink jumped out of the bushes, grabbed his fish and had it away on their toes. But, barring unfortunate circumstances, that sort of thing should be an isolated incident."

"What sort of unfortunate circumstances would those be?"

"Without wanting to alarm people, mink breed very quickly. Within 12 hours of their breakout, they had negotiated a highly favourable surrogate motherhood arrangement with weasels and stoats. A problem might occur when 6,000 mink become 60,000. At that point, they're likely to unite, and once mink unite we're into a whole different ball-game."

"Could you be more specific?"

"We've had reports that, using their highly developed sense of smell, mink have cornered the market in illegal Viagra. Ram-raiding, too. There has been a nasty incident near Fordingbridge when a motorist stopped for what he thought was a load of fur-coats that had fallen off a lorry. He was mugged, left badly nipped by the side of the road while the mink took his car on a Thelma and Louise-type spree, terrorising fishmongers along the south coast. Gangs can become regiments, regiments become armies. There are no known records of mink actually invading small countries, but we can't rule it out at this point."

"But people shouldn't be alarmed."

"Absolutely not. Just take basic, commonsense precautions. Avoid going out after dark if you live in the New Forest area. If you know any of the goofy sentimentalists who released the animals in the first place, for heaven's sake report them to the police - for complex psychological reasons, the mink are angry with them and may actually have taken a contract out on them. Oh, and, ladies, for goodness sake, don't go out in a mink coat. These animals astonishingly highly-sexed. They will ignore the proprieties when they spot what they regard as a potential mate."

"Do ministry experts have any idea why the natural world seems to have become so hostile?"

"We believe that it's not the animals that are the problem, but us. Such has been the obsession with drippy sentimental pet hospital programmes on TV that the essential divide between mankind and wildlife has been eroded. Idiots are prepared to wipe out the water vole and rare bird species so that a few deceptively cute mink can enjoy their freedom. Or to take another example, townspeople treat foxes like pets."

"What's wrong with that?'"

"Nothing - if you don't mind seeing kittens being swallowed whole! Thanks to dewy-eyed suburbanites, foxes have become addicted to the taste of young cat flesh."

"Come to think of it, there was story about that in this week's New Statesman. Their domestic columnist Sean French returned from holiday to find the family's favourite fox plump and happy, curled up asleep on the lawn. Unfortunately their two seven-month old cats had gone missing."

"Exactly. He thought it was a coincidence, poor sap."

"So what other animals are in danger of turning in this way?"

"We're very, very worried about snakes. As you know, the blonde bombshell Anthea Turner recently relaunched her career by lolling about, scantily concealed by a boa constrictor. Already reptile specialists across the country have reported a run on the larger snakes by women disappointed by the new generation of men who want to sit in the kitchen discussing the parameters of vulnerability over camomile tea."

"So they go for a bit of heavy petting with a snake."

"It's no laughing matter. A snake-lover in Hayes was so pleased with new arrangement that she gave the Viagra she had bought for her boyfriend to the boa constrictor."

"No prizes for guessing where she scored for the Viagra."

"Too right. They think of everything, these mink."

Miles Kington is on holiday