October 23, 1995 the Animal Liberation Front (A.L.F.) opened the cages on the
Dargatz Mink Farm in British Columbia, Canada freeing 2,400 mink into the surrounding
countryside. The liberation from the Dargatz Mink Farm was the first in what now
has become 12 liberation raids by the A.L.F. of fur farms in North America in
less than a year. The result has been the release of approximately 11,000 mink,
30 fox and one coyote from the intensive confinement that would have lead to death
for all prisoners.
The release of animals from fur farms is nothing new.
In the former Soviet Union, Iceland, mainland Scandinavia, Western Europe, Britain
and Newfoundland, Animal Liberation raids as well as accidental and intentional
escapes from fur farms have resulted in mink and some fox being introduced successfully
into the natural environment.
In Britain, the ecological impact of these
releases has been measured, and as liberated mink conveniently fill the ecological
niche left by Britain's now extinct otter population, the negative impact has
been minimal. In Iceland's island ecosystem, and in parts of Scandinavia, mink
has been slightly more destructive to the ecological balance. Never has the question
of formerly captive minks survivability been questioned by those in the know,
only the level of impact these beautiful fierce predators have as they successfully
readapt to a wild life.
NORTH AMERICAN MINK
In North America, its
a whole different story. Although there is a Eurasian species, mink are believed
to be native to North America with the theory that the Eurasian species originated
from North American ancestors who crossed the ice bridge between this continent
and Asia. Previous to the "discovery" of the "New World",
mink were one of the many aquatic animals that flourished in virtually every lake
and waterway in North America except the desert regions.
The war against
the mink nation that continues today, began when the first Europeans invaded their
homeland. When the Mayflower first rounded Cape Cod, Massachusetts in 1620, already
Jamestown, Virginia was the hub of an extensive fur trade. A price list from 1621
records mink among other animals fetching up to ten shillings apiece on the market
to which modern day fur farmers can claim as their bloody lineage.
fur trade can also accept responsibility for causing the extinction of the native
minks salt water cousin, the sea-mink. Nearly twice the size of their freshwater
relations, and recorded as inhabiting the whole Northeastern North American Seaboard,
and all that remains of this being are two skins and a pile of bones. That and
of course the memory of one furrier who before the American Revolution recalls
the pelt of the sea-mink selling for five guineas. And so it is, by the end of
the 19th century, fresh-water mink were severely depleted from their former range
in all of North America by a fur industry thirsty for the blood of this continents
BEGINNINGS OF MINK CAPTIVITY
Unlike their European and
Scandinavian counterparts, mink farmers in the United States and Canada began
the attempted domestication and economic exploitation of mink often from live
captured wild mink populations. In the 1920's this new element to the fur trade
In 1925 Kent Vernon's family in Northern Utah (now president of the
Utah fur-breeders Co-Op) live-trapped chicken-killing mink from the wild and began
breeding them in captivity. In 1927 the U.S. Government opened its Experimental
Furbearer Research Station in Corvallis, Oregon (shutdown by an A.L.F. raid in
1991) and began experimentation in different techniques to breed wild mink in
captivity. With overexploited mink populations unable to satisfy the demands of
an increasing demand for fur, trappers across North America began to captive-raise
wild mink, and in the 1930's discovered fur mutations that altered the minks fur
color. Now just 70 short years later, mink farmers are still battling the still
dominant wild DNA of captive mink that causes these normally free-roaming solitary
animals to contract diseases from close confinement, self-mutilate and even cannibalize
their own kind. All for the price of a fur coat.
MINK INDUSTRY RESEARCH
in 1990, I researched mink farms by visiting over 25 in Oregon, Washington, Utah,
Idaho, Montana, and Michigan. What began as a quest to document conditions and
killing techniques on fur farms quickly turned into the study of the first ever
attempted domestication of a North American predator. What I learned both by my
research and by the rescue rehabilitation, and release of sixty mink from a Montana
farm leads me to conclude that all captive mink should be released, in one way
or another, from their prisons we call fur farms.
Highly intelligent, fierce
and very adaptive, mink are anything but successfully domesticated. Arguments
by the fur industry that mink are domesticated are ludicrous. Like all wild animals
held in captivity, some mink when released from their cages will fare better than
others. Many factors will contribute to successful mink reintroduction as does
the impact they will have on their surrounding eco-system. These are issues that
I will address in this article.
In 1990-91, I spoke with
many mink farmers and researchers who, believing I was a mink farmer, instructed
me in ways to avoid my mink from losing their recessive genetic structures that
gave them the fur quality and color variation that separated them from their wild
relations. Captive mink are genetically 95% similar to their wild counterparts.
The only difference besides behavior being fur color and quality which is solely
maintained by a scientifically controlled diet, which is key to maintaining their
genetic differences from wild mink. Black and dark mink being the closest genetically
to wild mink.
Jim Leischow, a second generation mink farmer from Kenosha,
Wisconsin described to me in a discussion at the 1991 Seattle Fur Exchange auctions
how without a scientifically controlled diet, mink on any fur farm would lose
their recessive genes, and over-powered by their dominant wild genetic structure,
return to their wild roots in just a few generations. Leischow also detailed how
a mink escapee that breeds with a wild mink would produce offspring that in one
more generation would have lost all traces of any altered genetic structure.
MINK STILL WILD
The difference between mink and other animals raised in
intensive confinement is totally incomparable. Not only are all other domesticated
livestock ungulated and herbivorous but they have also been domesticated for well
over a thousand years. The closest comparison, which is hardly applicable, but
for the sake of argument will be used, is the domestication of the common house
cat. Originating in ancient Egypt, the cat has had over two thousand years of
domestication, yet still this feline predator is proven capable of surviving in
the wild as feral populations in the U.S. and Britain will attest to.
again, survivability is not the issue but impact on their native species. Captive
mink are so far away from successful domestication that they are rarely caged
together unless with their own off-spring, and then only until they reach sexual
maturity. Self-mutilation and cannibalism, which is not uncommon on mink farms,
is yet further proof of a wild animals' behavior as it attempts to deal with the
neurosis caused by intensive confinement. Anyone who has ever been on a mink farm
has heard the incessant scratching mink will make as they attempt to escape or
attack their captive neighbors, separated only by a plastic or metal divider.
This also is common behavior of a wild predator unfamiliar with close proximity
to others of its own species. The psychological as well as physical torture associated
with the confinement of mink naturally accustomed to solitary wandering is beyond
Genetically speaking mink are predominately still wild.
Separated from their wild ancestors only by a controlled diet. Physiologically
they are identical. What remains as the greatest division between wild and captive
mink is predatory instincts and natural behavior which dictates how they hunt,
find shelter, build nests and forage. Fear of other animals is minimal as mink
are renowned for their fearlessness.
MINK REHABILITATION PROJECT
separations were the basis of personal research into the potential for rehabilitation
and release of the 60 mink I had purchased in Montana in 1990. The Coalition Against
Fur Farms (CAFF) began as a rehabilitation project, the objective being to determine
the feasibility to reintroduce native mink from fur farms back into their natural
habitat. In January of 1991 the trials began as CAFF volunteers placed mink in
cages four times as large as their previous enclosures and introduced natural
objects such as logs, rocks, plants, and gallon baths.
Fur farmers had
assured me that escaped captive mink had at least a 50% chance of survival, and
CAFF hoped to increase that figure as much as possible. The introduction of a
12"x6" bathtubs allowed the mink their first opportunity to acquaint
themselves with water besides that which came from a small water nozzle or dish.
Their response was to fully submerge themselves and spin in a cycle that quickly
splashed all water out of their baths. This would be followed by grooming sessions
in which the mink dried themselves and maintained utmost cleanliness, yet another
sign of a healthy wild animal.
Once the mink had built up muscular strength
after their time in a fur farms cramped conditions, we began to nurture hunting
instincts. Though morally opposed to the killing of animals, CAFF felt that the
survival of our captive mink could not be guaranteed without a minimal amount
of live-animal feeding. We knew that our project would later be used by others
to determine the potential for successful reintroduction of fur farm prisoners,
and so chose to do everything possible to ensure not only their survival but also
their survival without human dependency. This also meant live-feeding which would
teach them how to hunt rather than scrounge near or where humans were. This would
ensure greater independence and less likelihood of human/mink interactions.
mink in our project dug into their instinctual memory to remind themselves how
to first seize the prey with one bite, then without releasing it, crush down until
the skull or neck was broken. Then the mink would scour the logs and rocks for
others that may have gone unnoticed. Once assured of no other present prey, the
mink would return to the kill and eat everything or place the remainder in its
nest just like wild mink. Once the mink had learned to kill and had tasted live
food, they refused to eat the scientific diet we had been supplied by National
Finally, we released the mink to natural waterways
across the Northwest's many forest lands. Always far from human habitations. And
never within a 5-mile radius of another captive released mink of the opposite
sex. We wanted to ensure the breeding only with wild mink. We also waited until
the natural breeding season had passed so as not to burden the mink with the upbringing
of offspring in their first season of freedom.
Our mink releases were filled
with encouraging signs that the mink would survive. On one release a mink quickly
found an abandoned animal burrow, and as we left we could see its head peeking
out watching our departure. Another release had a young female mink burrowing
under a log, gathering twigs and grass building a nest. Still another mink found
a mouse hole, and burying its nose in it began to dig frantically. On many releases
near streams the mink were quick to explore the shore of the water, eventually
plunging in and swimming completely submerged playing with pebbles and rocks with
their forepaws. Returning to one release site weeks later I quickly found mink
droppings and tracks near the creek and the dropping contained hair from a preyed
upon animal. Most of the behavior exhibited by our mink was not learned, but simply
returned to them as they found themselves in their natural element.
It is my belief that the liberator becomes responsible for
the lives of the liberated when she/he endeavors to free them. Ideally, the liberated
will become truly independent of human needs and achieve complete liberation.
But until then, there are a number of factors that liberators can influence to
increase the possibilities of a liberated mink's survival.
The time of
year the liberations take place is the highest priority. The best time being May
and January, the worst being during the breeding and kit-bearing season. Releasing
an impregnated mink increases the needs of the liberated mink for food and shelter,
female mink naturally raise their kits alone. Releasing mink once they have given
birth to a litter will also mean abandonment of kits, although some might be foster-raised
by another mink mother.
Of course, it cannot be over-looked that all captive
minks are destined for death, and there is room for debate as to which kind of
death is more desirable, a mink being the only one to surely know. Still I have
hesitated to release mink from fur farms near heavily traveled roads knowing a
large number would become road kills. This is yet another moral dilemma the liberator
must face when they decide to open the cages. Personally, I have seen mink watching
as the gas-chambers are wheeled down the rows of cage, and seen them screech frantically
and attempt all manner of last minute escape as it becomes painfully evident that
they will die.
There is also the very compelling argument for liberation
that even with the recapture of 100% of all released mink from a targeted farm,
that the breeding has still been completely disrupted as farmers have no way of
separately identifying their breeder mink from their pelter mink. A mink raised
to be pelted will often be in a much smaller cage than a breeder mink. For this
reason, liberators would do best by releasing mink from both large and small mink
cages so as to confuse the two. As of yet mink farmers have not devised methods
of tagging, branding or tattooing individual animals except for labeling on the
cage. For this reason it is always advantageous to remove all record-keeping cards
from cages when releasing mink.
Transportation of mink either a short distance
from cage to guard fence or a larger distance is best achieved by securing the
mink individually in its nestbox. A small flat piece of sheet metal is often used
to divide and block the hole leading from the nestbox to cage at which point the
nestbox can them be removed and the hold blocked with a gloved hand or more permanent
means for long transportation. Despite the average liberators aversion to leather,
nothing protects human skin better than a thick pair of leather welding gloves
which usually can be found lying around a mink farm. With criminal DNA testing
liberators should take every precaution not to leave a blood trail of their own.
Remember, you are dealing with a wild predator unfamiliar to kind human hands.
Often given the choice, a mink will leave the immediate area once outside
of the guard fence, which usually is a 5-6 foot fence lined with sheet metal to
prevent escape should mink get out of their cage. If left inside the guard fence
often a mink will linger simply because of the smell of food or other mink cages,
and also because of the familiarity of its own nestbox which is all it has ever
Once a large number of mink have left the guard fence area the quickest
method of natural distribution is waterways. Without interference from the irate
mink farmers attempting to recapture his furry investments, mink will not overcrowd
themselves in the wild. It is not uncommon for a mink to travel 5 miles in one
night (they are mostly nocturnal) and a large number of mink released in one area
will not stay concentrated but will travel until they establish a territory all
their own, searching out other mink only to breed.
leads us to the issue of ecological impact caused by mass mink liberations on
their new environment. There will be noticeable impact on local prey populations,
and for this reason, liberators should research target areas to guarantee that
the sensitive habitat of a vulnerable endangered species is not nearby. Mink will
attack almost anything, I've seen mink chasing large dogs and heard a story of
one seen flying through the air attached to the leg of a large heron, the mink
unwilling to release its targeted prey.
Mink will kill beyond their need,
and for this reason caution should be taken when releasing mink near large concentrations
of small animals. Mink are ferocious. Long persecuted at the hands of man, native
predators are continually routinely killed by ranchers and other gun-toting humans.
Much like the coyote has filled the ecological niche the wolf has left behind
and by doing so extended its own historical range, so also do mink have the potential
to fit nicely into the niche otters and other predators have left as their numbers
are continually reduced by humans. Native mink populations are still drastically
reduced, and given large-scale mink liberations, individual mink are sure to redistribute
themselves to their former habitat with a little help from their two-legged friends.
should not be hesitation to reintroduce captive mink into their native habitat.
The ideal environment being underdeveloped areas with a nearby water source and
infrequently used roads. As A.L.F. liberators open the cages, they not only liberate
an individual animal but the whole species. Mink, fox, bobcat, and lynx farm liberations
are not only a blow to a fur farmers' profits, but also a boost to North America's
ravaged environment. With an absence of natural predators, prey populations often
explode causing undue harm to their environment. By releasing fur farm prisoners,
liberators are guardians of healthy eco-systems.
Before one single animal
abuser can argue the merits of a captive fur animal's impact on the natural environment,
they must first address the overall impact the whole domestic livestock industry
has had on the earth. It is no coincidence that the number one reason behind predator
eradication is the protection of politically powerful livestock interests. Still
it remains that for the mink nations of North America the shortest path on the
road to animal liberation lies from the opened cage to the outlying guard fence.
it is time for liberators across the continent to follow the lead of the A.L.F.
in British Columbia, Washington, Utah, Wisconsin, Tennessee, New York, and Minnesota
and take action to liberate the four-legged prisoners from the war on nature.
all fur farm prisoners are free.... Open the Cages!!!
Rod Coronado is currently
serving a 57 month prison sentence for his involvement in destroying mink research
facilities. He can be reached by writing: Rod Coronado #3895000, FCI, 8901 South
Wilmot Rd., Tucson, AZ 85706. Assume all letters he receives are read by federal