Mink liberation by animal extremists presents threat to other animals

Steve Mertl
National Affairs Contributor
Daily Brew
Minks are raised on farms across Canada for their furs. (Stephen Puddicombe/CBC)

I'm not crazy about the commercial fur-farming business but it's hard to justify the thoughtless release of hundreds of mink by so-called animal-liberation protesters.

Mink farms in B.C.'s Fraser Valley seem to get hit regularly in spite of the clearly adverse consequences of releasing hundreds of omnivorous predators all at once.

The latest release came this week when as many as 500 mink escaped from a farm near Abbotsford, about an hour's drive east of Vancouver, according to the Vancouver Sun.

Local police say they don't know how the mink got out but area mink farms have been targeted by animal-rights activists in the past, with large releases in the mid-1990s, the Sun reported.

Const. Ian MacDonald said he's warning area chicken farmers to watch out for the mink.

"They will eat chicken," he said.

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And almost anything else that moves, apparently.

According to Nature.ca, wild mink, a member of the weasel family, will prey on everything from small mammals to muskrats, fish and frogs. Males, which grow up to two feet in length, will attack larger animals.

Escaped mink are thought to have ravaged a duck farm earlier this month in Langley, just east of Vancouver, according to the Vancouver Province.

Jae Woodlock said he found dozens of birds, almost a third of his flock of Muscovy ducks, dead in their enclosure with bite marks on their necks.

“They bite their necks, they suck the blood and then they’re on to the next — they don’t eat them, they just go from duck to duck,” Woodlock’s sister, Sandra, who operates a chicken farm on the property, told Postmedia News.

The manager of the local animal shelter said he gets calls regularly about marauding mink, which do occasionally escape on their own.

"We are aware they are out in the community," Sean Baker told the Province. "They can do a lot of damage very quickly. They are very good at killing chickens and small birds. They're fast and they have sharp teeth."

The Animal Liberation Front (ALF) claimed responsibility for the Oct. 2 release of 500 mink about 13 kilometres from Woodlock's farm.

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"The cages the mink were locked in were full of feces and mostly rusted shut," the group said in an unsigned email, the Province reported. "Some cages had dead animals, clearly left for weeks."

Postmedia News said the ALF claimed the freed animals would thrive in Fraser Valley's "ideal mink habitat."

Commenting on a previous release, B.C. Wildlife Branch technician Mark Pimlott told the Vancouver Sun that farmed mink are capable of surviving in the wild.

"Mink are wild animals raised in captivity,'' he said. "They will suffer high mortality in the first few weeks. But no one can convince me there won't be survivors.''

And that's the problem. Mink farms are a favoured target for animal liberationists because unlike chickens or beef cattle, they're not domesticated.

Raised in small cages, they are prone to disease, stress-induced self mutilation and infighting, according to the web site Furkills.org. When it comes time to harvest the fur, the mink are killed using gas or injected poison, the site says.

Animal Liberation Frontline said last month that four mink farms in the Iowa-Wisconsin-Illinois area were hit in just over a month, freeing more than 2,000 mink.

European mink farms are also targeted often, with devastating consequences for the surrounding countryside.

In 1998, some 6,000 mink were released from a fur farm in Hampshire, England, that was implicated in an animal-cruelty case, BBC News reported.

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Police quickly issued a warning that the predators were a threat to other animals, including cats and small dogs.

Most were recaptured but hundreds of mink, which are not native to the British Isles, roamed the New Forest area, an internationally listed wetland that is home to a number of endangered species.

The victims included several birds at a bird sanctuary, including an owl and a kestrel, according to the The Times.

The ALF justified the releases as a protest against British government foot-dragging on legislation to ban fur farming. But other animal-rights activists slammed the large-scale mink releases.

"What they are is very efficient predators and in large numbers that can do a considerable amount of damage," Mike Everett of the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds, told BBC News.

"If there is a plus side to the act of monumental stupidity then it must be that this is not the nesting season. No matter what happens to all these minks - whether they be shot, trapped, or die of starvation - some will survive and threaten ground nesting birds in the spring."

ALF spokesman Robin Webb pooh-poohed Everett's claim and defended the group's actions.

"I know many of the mink are going to die, but at least they will have had a taste of freedom," he said.

A similar incident in Donegal, Ireland, caused a similar panic, according to the web site Bird Watch Ireland. Western Donegal contains some of the country's most threatened bird species, including the Red-throated Diver, of which only four to eight breeding pairs remain, the site said.

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"Ground nesting birds are especially vulnerable to mink predation and their potential increase in numbers as a result of this release poses a particularly serious threat."

While criticizing the mink release, Bird Watch Ireland said the root of the problem was the continued existence of fur farms in Ireland.