Species with shrouded or unknown origins

I’ve been staying with my mom in KwaZulu-Natal province for the last few weeks and one of her hobbies is to breed and raise Ferrets. Obviously Ferrets are not native to Southern Africa (one would think) but she has followed regulation with our environmental authorities as much as possible and will soon be one of the first breeders in SA to get a permit.
As tends to happen, curiosity got the better of me and I started to research the geographical origins and biology of Ferrets, and this is where I hit a bit of a roadblock…
No-one, not even the experts, seem to agree on where the modern day Ferret originated from
They are in the Mustellid family which is represented fairly widely through the Old World (Africa, Asia and Europe), and even in Southern Africa, we have the Polecat which is in the same family, but it seems that Ferrets have traits both in common with some Mustellids and completely alien to others. Old Greek texts make mention of Ferrets more than a Millenia ago and remark on their use as hunting aids, where it is said they could be tied to a harness, released into a Rabbit burrow and be pulled out with the rabbit not in their jaws, but gripped tightly in their claws (!!!)… Anyone who is familiar with Ferrets will know that their claws are absolutely not designed to latch onto prey, but rather for digging through loose soil and grappling onto rough bark

Ferrets also display some similarities to certain rodents in that after catching and killing prey, they will drag it back to a den shared with others, similar to some central-place foragers. Whether they have a habit of storing leftovers of these prey for leaner times and harder seasons is something I don’t know, but if they do, surely that would suggest that their origins are in the Northern Hemisphere for sure?

Does anyone here have further insights? I imagine there are other species which science is still trying to discover the origins of, although they may not have been selectively bred to the extent of Ferrets which is part of what makes finding their origins so hard

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Origins of domestic dogs are pretty disputed despite a lot of evidence being gathered.

In general, I think this scenario is most common among domesticated animals which have been trafficked by humans and interbred in so many ways that many of the usual ways for investigating a species’ origins/evolutionary history are not very useful.

Some other instances come from species that are known from only one or a few specimens, often collected long ago and with little information. An interesting example of a gigantic gecko (the largest known during modern times!) that has recently been illuminated some with genetic data:


Hi, see https://doi.org/10.2108%2Fzsj.20.243
“Our IRBP date of 340 ka for the separation between the lineages of Mustela putorius furo and Mustela putorius putorius is in harmony with this fossil evidence from North Africa and supports the view that Domestic Ferret was domesticated from the African branch of Mustela putorius, which diverged from the European branch in the late Middle Pleistocene to immigrate to North Africa.”


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