[en] The European mink (Mustela lutreola) is one of the most threatened carnivores in Europe, with fragmented populations in Belarus. Russia and Romania, as well in south-western France and northern Spain. Many populations have become extinct recently, or are declining. We investigated mitochondrial DNA variation, using the complete D-loop region, and concentrating oil the west European population. The aim was two-fold: to use the genetic information to advise on the conservation of European mink, and to begin to understand their history through the Pleistocene. Captive breeding and re-introduction programmes are underway, so it is particularly vital to know whether the West European population should be treated separately. We find that European mink probably colonised from a single refugium after the last glaciation. West European populations may be fixed for a single haplotype. also suggesting a common origin. Despite this evidence for gene flow, following the precautionary principle we suggest that mink from the three geographically separate populations (Romania, Eastern and Western Europe) should be managed separately, for the moment. (C) 2003 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.