When not overly staged or dramatised, documentaries can be a great way to teach us much about wildlife. When it comes to mustelids, the photographs and captivating movements can bring us closer to their world than previously imagined. Many of the documentaries listed below aim to improve the way we perceive these often misunderstood animals. Unfortunately, unless they are uploaded to public video-sharing platforms, some are restricted to certain regions. We hope this list also provides an idea of what species are disproportionately represented.
A request to documentary filmmakers
There are not enough documentaries about mustelids out there that go beyond the subjective and clichéd campfire rhetoric, “Mustelids are cute but musky and ferocious animals with sharp scary teeth and claws that kill things”, and focus more on providing insightful and lesser-known observations.
Let us give more attention to their intelligence. The reality that they are not invincible and can fall prey themselves to larger predators, as well as struggle with population loss due to habitat destruction, human encroachment, overhunting, and other factors. Perhaps even point out their important ecological roles or debunk a few nonsensical myths. We understand that sensationalism and evil predator music during hunting scenes sells, but that is all it often does, and all many viewers are left talking about.
In order for a documentary to give a fair representation of these animals, it is important for it to minimise perpetuating oversimplified and human-centric beliefs about their behaviour and psychology. The focus should be more on the animal’s world and less about ourselves—our biases should be challenged rather than pandered to.
► European Badger (M. meles)
• Badgers: Secrets of the Sett by BBC’s Natural World TV series | 2008 | 48 minutes
For over a quarter of a million years European badgers have lived in Great Britain. This documentary follows a year in the life of a family of badgers inhabiting a valley in Devon and shows their social life underground and the advantages of being an omnivore species.
• Der Dachs – das heimlichste Wildtier der Schweiz by SRF’s NETZ NATUR TV series | 2018 | 50 minutes
English: The Badger – the Most Secret Wild Animal in Switzerland
This is a documentary in Swiss German, and focuses on the European badger’s strengths and struggles in Switzerland. Finding out what these badgers do when they are out at night proves a bigger challenge.
► North American Badger (T. taxus)
• Summer of the Badger by NBC’s Mutual of Omaha’s Wild Kingdom TV series | 1971 | 24 minutes
Set in the scenic country of the American west, this story follows two North American badger cubs from their birth in a prairie den.
► Ratel / Honey Badger (M. capensis)
• Badger Quest: The Honey Hunters of Niassa by Begg Nature Productions | 2008 | Approx 1 hour
A husband and wife team, Keith and Colleen Begg set out for the remote regions of northern Mozambique to continue studying and filming a feisty little beast: the ratel. See the relationships between the indigenous people and other honey hunters.
• Honey Badger: Grit by Smithsonian Channel | 2017 | 46 minutes
On the harsh and unforgiving plains of central Namibia, Africa, a young ratel named Grit has just left home to venture out in the great, wide world, but it will not be easy. Fewer than half of all young ratels survive their first few weeks on their own, as they deal with intense heat, starvation, and round-the-clock threats from the many predators of the savanna.
• Honey Badgers: Masters of Mayhem by PBS’s Nature TV series | 2014 | 1 hour
This documentary takes us to the Moholoholo Rehabilitation Centre in South Africa to learn about the ratel. A young rescued ratel named Stoffel is the main focus, and he is quite the escape artist! Stoffel’s incredible escape antics have made him the discussion of the species’ intelligence.
• Fishers in the Family by Marty Stouffer/PBS’s Wild America TV series | 1985 | 1 hour
Marty Stouffer and his family adopt a pair of orphaned fishers and attempt to rise and teach them how to survive in the wild as their mother would have.
• Forgotten but not Gone: The Pacific Fisher by Day’s Edge Productions | 2017 | 8 minutes
This film focuses on fishers living in the northwestern United States. In the late 19th and early 20th centuries their numbers declined due to fur trapping and habitat loss from logging. After restrictions of those activities were put in place, the species rebounded in many regions. However, on the west coast, isolated populations of the fisher continue to struggle due to poisons from illegal marijuana grows. Despite their declining numbers, the fisher has yet to receive federal protection under the Endangered Species Act.
► Eurasian Pine Marten (M. martes)
• Pine Marten: Spirit of the Wood by BBC’s Wildlife on One TV series | 1998 | 30 minutes
An insight into the life of the Eurasian pine marten—which is making a comeback—and slowly spreading south from its stronghold in northwest Scotland.
• The Secret Life of the Pine Marten by Dan Bagur, “A Wildlife Garden” | 2021 | 45 minutes
An intimate and raw documentary of the life of Eurasian pine martens, captured by outdoor cameras. The narration explains features and behaviours of the martens as they go about their life. Uniquely, this documentary does not use foley, i.e., most sounds in the video come from what is on the screen.
► North American Marten (M. americana)
• Meet the Marten by Marty Stouffer/PBS’s Wild America TV series | 1991 | 30 minutes
This documentary follows young North American marten from early spring into winter, to see how this elusive member of the Mustelid family earns the right to survive.
• Return of the Pine Martens by NBC’s Mutual of Omaha’s Wild Kingdom TV series | 1976 | 22 minutes
Captured in Canada and released in the Nicolet Forest of Wisconsin, the marten are observed and studied to insure their survival.
► Yellow-Throated Marten (M. flavigula)
• Зов тайги: Харза by ЗОВ ТАЙГИ | 2009 | 37 minutes
English: Call of the Taiga: Marten
Although this documentary is in Russian, very few words are spoken. It is meant to take the viewer on a silent journey in the world of a yellow-throated marten.
It is difficult to tell how much of this documentary is genuine, since we never see both the marten and its supposed chased prey in the same shot, but it is still worth a watch for the great rare footage.
• Invasion of the Killer Mink by BBC’s Wildlife on One TV series | 1992 | 30 minutes
Given the misleading (and somewhat sensationalistic) title of this documentary, it is worth noting that the North American mink did not “invade” Great Britain. During the 1920s and 1950s they were willfully imported from North America to be bred on fur farms, despite the reasonably foreseeable ecological impact from possible escapes or releases.
Beyond the title, this documentary does not attempt to demonise the North American mink. It mentions their negative effects on Britain’s native wildlife, but also brings attention to their versatile nature and a female’s care for her young, all while debunking a few myths.
• Minnesota Mink by Marty Stouffer/PBS’s Wild America TV series | 1987 | 24 minutes
This documentary follows a mother North American mink as she hunts, mates, and rears a family near Lake Superior.
► Asian Small-Clawed Otter (A. cinereus)
• Pet Otters: The Truth Behind the Latest Wildlife Craze by World Animal Protection | 2019 | Approx 20 minutes
Otter cafes in Japan and social media influences are driving increased demand for pet otters all over the world, with devastating consequences.
► Eurasian Otter (L. lutra)
• De Otter – een Legende Keert Terug by EO | 2021 | Approx 50 minutes
English: The Otter – a Legend Returns
The Eurasian otter, a playful but shy semi-aquatic mammal, disappeared from the Netherlands in 1988. They were the victims of bad water quality, traffic and bad fishing practices. After 14 years of nature restoration, otters were released in Overijssel and the population has increased ever since. They even settled in city canals of Groningen.
• On the Tracks of the Wild Otter by PBS’s Nature TV series | 1983 | Approx 1 hour
Wildlife filmmaker Hugh Miles manages to gain the trust of a female otter in Shetland and follows her around for a year to capture her lifecycle throughout all the seasons. He even films the otter raising her cubs until they are big enough to hunt for fish on their own.
• On the Trail of Tarka by BBC’s Natural World TV series | 2006 | 49 minutes
A look at Henry Williamson’s most famous book “Tarka the Otter”. The film follows the fortunes of an otter living on the River Torridge in north Devon 80 years after the book was written.
• Otters in the Stream of Life by BBC’s Natural World TV series | 2000 | 50 minutes
This film follows a family of otters living on the west coast of Scotland. They use their intelligence and experience to adapt to life in the sea.
• The Otter’s Trail by ORF | 1998 | 50 minutes
Regarded as facing extinction in the 80s, the Eurasian otter has benefited from undisturbed natural wetlands in the former Communist Bloc. This documentary shows how otters expanded their range, from eastern Europe’s nature reserves, back to pockets of Austria, where they had largely disappeared through hunting by fishermen and furtrappers in the past. It also shows how we benefit from otters thanks to their predation on invasive muskrats and voles.
• Springwatch Guide to Otters by BBC’s Springwatch TV series | 2012 | 1 hour
The Eurasian otter is one of the most charismatic animals of Great Britain. In this Springwatch special Martin Hughes-Games talks to some huge otterholics, such as the wildlife cameramen Simon King and Charlie Hamilton-James, who show us how to observe otters in the wild, and Chris Packham, who tells us about the characteristics that make otters such amazing predators.
• West Coast Otters by BBC | 2005 | 9 minutes
This short documentary is about an inseparable pair of otters, a mother and her cub who live on the west coast of Scotland, and follows their bond during the cub’s first winter. The daughter has already grown but is still very playful and has to learn to catch her own fish.
► Giant Otter (P. brasiliensis)
• Giant Otters of the Amazon by BBC’s Natural World TV series | 2013 | Approx 1 hour
Diablo the giant otter lives in a lake in the jungles of Peru, with his unruly family of six cubs. Even at the tender age of six months, they need to learn how to survive in this dangerous paradise. Their dad teaches them to swim and eventually to catch piranha for themselves, but they must also learn to stay away from the neighbours from hell – the giant caiman. These large members of the crocodile family are a real threat to the giant otter family and Diablo must go to extraordinary lengths to try to protect his cubs.
Note: In the film, cameraman Charlie James mentions he is surprised that the giant otter cubs are not attacked by piranhas in the water, when piranhas are actually scavengers and do not attack living animals most of the time. There is a scene showing piranhas attacking a chunk of meat, but this is exactly what a scavenger does.
• Giant Otters: Wolves of the River by BBC’s Wildlife on One TV series | 2001 | 30 minutes
The waters of the Amazon are inhabited by two large predators: the giant otter and the caiman. This documentary follows a family group of giant otters and shows their playful social nature and their often tense relationship with caimans.
• Mission: Giant Otters by Parthenon Entertainment ltd | 2004 | 50 minutes
Diane McTurk is famous for her successes with the rehabilitation of rescued orphaned giant otter pups. We follow her as she goes in search of an otter she hasn’t seen for a year.
• Raising Sancho by BBC’s Natural World TV series | 2008 | Approx 50 minutes
Rescued by local fishermen as a baby and raised by giant otter expert Carolina Vargas, this is the story of a young giant otter’s journey to adulthood. At first, Sancho is utterly dependent on Carolina, and has to be bottle fed and taught how to catch fish. Eventually Carolina knows that she will have to break their extraordinary bond as Sancho makes his way back into the wild. Giant otters are highly social animals, so Carolina does not know whether an orphaned giant otter can survive alone in the world’s biggest wetland. In the idyllic Pantanal, we follow Sancho’s story as he learns to survive in a world fraught with danger.
► Marine Otter (L. felina)
• Chungungo: a mentor’s tale by VisionHawk | 2019 | 9 minutes
The chungungo, also known as the marine otter, is a rare small marine mammal living along the untamed coast of Chile. This short documentary shows us the lives of a mother marine otter and her cubs.
► North American River Otter (L. canadensis)
• Otters of the Adirondacks by Marty Stouffer/PBS’s Wild America TV series | 1987 | 30 minutes
This documentary follows a family of North American river otters in the mountains of upstate New York.
• The Otters of Yellowstone by BBC’s Natural World TV series | 1997 | 55 minutes
The snowy landscape of Yellowstone National Park is full of geysers and hot springs and was considered a true wonderland by its early visitors. This documentary is about the life of its most charming inhabitants, the North American river otters. A mother otter raises her cubs, teaches them to fish and protects them against coyotes until they are big and strong enough to live on their own, so she can give birth to the next litter.
• Year of the Otter by NBC’s Mutual of Omaha’s Wild Kingdom TV series | 1969 | 24 minutes
In a small Wisconsin lake, two otters are born and are followed through the first year of their lives.
► Sea Otter (E. lutris)
• Saving Otter 501 by PBS’s Nature TV series | 2013 | Approx 50 minutes
The staff of Monterey Bay Aquarium has taken care of abandoned sea otter cubs since 1984. Through years of experience they have developed a refined rehabilitation program for these animals. This documentary follows otter 501 from being a helpless baby to an adult otter ready for life in the wild.
• Sea Otter’s 100 Year Comeback by Real Wild | 2021 | 44 minutes
Canadian documentary about the life and diet of the sea otter, as well as interviews of researchers studying sea otters.
• Sea Otters: A Million Dollar Baby by BBC’s Natural World TV series | 2010 | Approx 1 hour
When a sea otter mum decides to have her pup amongst the yachts of a millionaires’ marina on the coast of California, it is a unique event. The mum must teach her baby how to dodge the boats and find food in this busy harbour. However, the arrival of a tough male sea otter signals disaster for the family. When the mum is attacked, the pup is left on her own and must fight for survival.
• Spy in the Snow by BBC, John Downer Productions and PBS | 2018 | Approx 1 hour
Following the Spy in the Wild franchise, this TV movie entry focuses on animals that live in the coldest places on Earth. New technology using life-like animatronics with built-in cameras are able to capture wildlife at its most intimate and in ways that have never been captured before. One of the parts focuses on an otter mother teaching and protecting her cub.
• The Unsinkable Sea Otter by The Undersea World of Jacques Cousteau TV Series | 1971 | 48 minutes
Sea otters were almost hunted to extinction for their luxurious fur. Now being a protected species they still have to face danger from illegal shooting and oil spills. In this documentary the Cousteau crew capture a couple of sea otters and release them in a netted cove for observation. They also study otters in Monterey Bay and observe their courtship and mating, and win their trust by offering them food so they can study them up close.
• World of the Sea Otter by NBC’s Mutual of Omaha’s Wild Kingdom TV series | 1973 | 24 minutes
Marlin travels to the Pacific coast to observe some scientists conducting research on the sea otters.
• Sea Otters: The Clam Busters by BBC’s Wildlife on One TV series | 1995 | 29 minutes
Narrated by David Attenborough, this documentary describes the habitat, life cycle, behavior of sea otters, as well as their competition for food with humans.
► Contains Multiple Otter Species
• Seasons of the Otter by DocLights | 2020 | 48 minutes
This documentary follows the lives of a family of Eurasian otters throughout the seasons. Two otter cubs soon need to fend for themselves. We also take a look at other otter species such as the giant otter and the smooth coated otter, two species with a much more social lifestyle.
• Supercharged Otters by BBC’s Natural World TV series | 2017 | Approx 1 hour
This documentary reveals the survival secrets of otters. Wildlife cameraman Charlie Hamilton James spent 25 years filming these elusive animals and always did his best to help otters in need.
In this documentary he follows three orphaned river otter cubs until their release back into the wild and shows us amazing slow motion recordings of an otter’s movements on land and in water. He shows incredible adaptations such as the extraordinarily dense fur of a sea otter and an otter’s ability to smell food under water.
► European Mink (M. lutreola)
• Sauvons le vison d’Europe by FIFO Distribution | 2018 | 52 minutes
English: Let’s Save the European Mink
The European mink is facing the threat of extinction. Very little is known about this species and they deserve more attention. They are among a range of biodiversity that is disappearing from the spotlight. Discovering the field work of professionals committed to the protection of the species, scientific and ethical questions and philosophical reflections articulate this documentary. How can we coexist with the wild, respect its habitat and think about conservation work? What means must be used to protect a species in danger of extinction? What environmental and moral necessity lies behind these missions?
► European Polecat (M. putorius)
• The Cat that Came in from the Cold by BBC’s Natural World TV series | 1991 | 1 hour
We have no idea why this documentary was given such a misleading title. This film has nothing to do with a cat. It is about a European polecat living on a farm in Wales, and her story of survival while raising kits. It also talks about other animals and their lives on or near the farm, such as sheep, foxes, birds, and rats.
• Polecats: Masked Raiders by Ibex Films | 2011 | 1 hour
Not long ago, European polecats were amongst the most common predators throughout the British Isles. At that time, they were familiar to country-dwellers as the “Masked Raiders”. By the end of World War I, these enigmatic animals had been brought to the very brink of extinction. The causes of such a rapid decline in numbers makes for a classic tale of conflict between carnivores and people. This film tells the dramatic story of how these enigmatic animals survived.
► North American Polecat / Black-Footed Ferret (M. nigripes)
• Ferret Town by Caldera Productions | 2017 | 30 minutes
The North American polecat is a species previously thought to be extinct from the great plains. This film digs into the complexity of endangered species management and presents one of the best conservation stories in the United States.
• Return of the Prairie Bandit by Real Wild | 2020 | Approx 50 minutes
The North American polecat is not the most endangered species in the world, as the YouTube description for this documentary claims, but they have struggled to survive. This documentary focuses on reintroduction efforts in the Canadian province of Saskatchewan.
• Wanted Alive by BBC’s Wildlife on One TV series | 1993 | 30 minutes
North American polecats were thought to be extinct since the mid 70s when in 1981 a ferret was killed by a dog. This event, and the fact that they are vulnerable to canine distemper, led to a search for live black-footed ferrets in order to save them from extinction. This documentary follows the breeding program and release back into the wild.
► Eurasian Stoat (M. erminea)
• Stoats in the Priory by BBC’s Wildlife on One TV series | 1996 | 30 minutes
In the summer of 1995 a family of Eurasian stoats was discovered around Mount Grace Priory in North Yorkshire. In this documentary Sir David Attenborough shows us how these enchanting creatures hunt and play on and around the priory grounds.
• Wolverine: Chasing the Phantom by PBS’s Nature TV series | 2010 | Approx 1 hour
This is a film about the reputation and survival skills of the wolverine. Wildlife filmmaker Steve Kroschel has spent 25 years with wolverines, and in this documentary we see he has even shared his home with them. While caring for two orphaned wolverines, he brings to light both their strengths and vulnerabilities.
This documentary does an excellent job of describing the wolverine’s essence without the need of sensationalism.
• Wolverine Country by Marty Stouffer/PBS’s Wild America TV series | 1985 | 29 minutes
This documentary follows the wolverine in the mountains of northwest Montana.
• Wolverine: Ghost of the Northern Forest by CBC’s The Nature of Things TV series | 2016 | Approx 1 hour
Filmmaker Andrew Manske goes in search of the elusive wolverine. This is another documentary that focuses on the wolverine’s struggles of survival, as well as their (more sociable than previously thought) behaviour.
• Wolverine – One Tough Mother by Terra Mater Factual Studios and Red Rock Films International | 2021 | 44 minutes
An immersive look into the life and motherhood of the elusive and rarely seen wolverine.
Contains Multiple Mustelids
• How Weasels Got Skinny by PBS Digital Studios | 2021 | 10 minutes
Most people who know mustelids already know certain species are long and slender, but why are they long and slender how did they come to be that way? This is a unique documentary short that explains the history/origin of mustelids, as well as details about their anatomy—all straight to the point and clear without any sensationalism.
• Meet the Mustelids by DocLights | 2020 | 50 minutes
Featuring a number of mustelids such as the Asian badger, European badger, European mink, Eurasian otter, European polecat, giant otter, wolverine, and yellow-throated marten, this documentary does an excellent job of capturing these animals for what they truly are—survivors. Sparing its viewers of unnecessary drama, we are given a true glimpse of how these animals care for their young, socialise, hunt, and protect one another, all while providing high-quality footage.
Do not be mislead by the video’s thumbnail on Curiosity Stream’s website. We have no idea why they decided to use a photo of an Asian black bear to represent a mustelid documentary.
• Weasels: Feisty and Fearless by BBC’s Natural World TV series | 2019 | 1 hour
This documentary shines a more positive and nondiscriminatory light on the ferret, wolverine, ratel, and North American marten. The main focus however, is Robert Fuller’s home in North Yorkshire, where he has created a sanctuary for Eurasian stoats. Such areas on his property include “Stoat City” and “Weasel Town”, where Eurasian stoats choose to live on their own accord. This documentary shows in great detail the life of a first-time mother Eurasian stoat named Bandita on Mr. Fuller’s property, and the struggles she faces to safely raise her young. It also features an orphaned weasel (a least weasel to be more specific) named Twiz, who was saved and raised by Mr. Fuller.
Documentaries | Feature and Short Films