The sable is one of 7 species of marten. Having been heavily hunted for its fur, which is highly prized for clothing, the sable has now disappeared from certain areas of its former range. Inhabiting areas of forest, sable are solitary by nature and live in underground dens. This carnivore lives in mountainous wooded areas, usually near streams, and an individual may have several dens beneath rocks or large roots. They are largely terrestrial in their habits. The sable hunts by day or night, roaming across a territory that may be as large as 3,000 ha (7,400 acres). Mostly it hunts rodents, but it will also eat small birds, fish, honey and berries. Sable have keen eyesight and hearing to enable them to locate their prey.
An elegant relative of the pine marten, the sable was almost hunted to extinction for its sumptuous pelage (fur). The fur is thicker with longer hairs in winter than in summer. Males are slightly larger and heavier than the females.
Sables form individual territories, which are fiercely defended against intruders, but in the mating season the males are more forgiving to passing females. Mating takes place during the summer and, as in many mustelids, development of the embryos does not start at once. This will ensure that the young are born in the spring, when conditions for their survival will be most favourable. The young are born small and blind during the spring. They open their eyes after around 30 days and are independent by 16 months.
The sable has a luxurious silky coat, usually dark brown or black, and has been hunted for many years. During the 18th century, thousands of animals were trapped for their pelts, and the sable is now raised on farms for the fur industry.
Conservation is now underway in Russia to save the decreasing wild population.
Distribution: Ranges throughout northern parts of Europe, from Poland and Scandinavia eastwards across Asia via Russia and parts of China, Siberia and Mongolia to Japan.
Habitat: Mountainous forests.
Weight: 0.7 - 1.8 kg (1.5 - 4 lb); males are heavier.
Length: 44 - 68 cm (17 - 27 in); up to 20 cm (8 in) tall.
Maturity: 2 - 3 years.
Gestation Period: 31 days; embryonic development takes 200 - 300 days overall.
Breeding: Average 2, ranges from 1 - 4; weaning occurs at around 1 year.
Food: Carnivorous, nuts and berries, preying on squirrels and mice, birds and fish.
Lifespan: 6 - 8 years; up to 18 in captivity.
The narrow muzzle is equipped with sharp teeth to dispatch prey rapidly.
Individuals vary in colour from shades of brown through to black, which is most highly valued in the fur industry.
There are five toes on each foot, and these bear formidably sharp claws.
The tail is well-furred and long, about a quarter of the body length.
Young sables play together, developing their agility and coordination, which will be essential for survival when they become independent.
Dark colouration merges into the forest background.