When suspected animal rights activists liberated some 40,000 mink from a Stearns County pelt farm earlier this week, they didn't grant the animals emancipation. They assigned them a death sentence.
The mink were housed at Lang Farms near Eden Valley, a swath of central Minnesota dominated by croplands about 75 miles northwest of Minneapolis.
Handlers using fish nets have managed to recover less than 6,000, and 90 percent were dead.
As for the remaining 34,000 or so that remain on the lam, an equally brutal fate awaits.
Minks are carnivorous weasels. They eat just about any kind of creature that lives in and near water, including frogs, mice, and worms. The mink raised at Lang Farm had food provided to them, according to Andrea Strauss, wildlife, and conservation expert with University of Minnesota Extension. Now that they have to earn their keep. it's not going to be pretty.
"My guess is their food was given to them," she says. "Yes, they most likely lived in confined spaces, but they didn't have to work for a living. Now they're going to have to hunt even though they've never learned how to do it, as it's a skill developed over time. Some could get injured by their prey. Some will starve. It's hard to say if they'll even know if they can acquire food."
Whatever the perps' intentions, their plan was doomed from the get-go. It requires multiple acres of wetlands to support one mink with an ample food supply. Three to four animals can be sustained when living along streams.
In this part of Stearns County, Rice Lake is the most significant water body in the area. Yet it is miles away.
"There's no ecosystem in one square mile that can support 40,000 minks," Strauss says. "They're going to decimate the food supply. There was no chance that was going to go well under any circumstances."
In other words, tens of thousands of minks were freed into an ecosystem that was completely unable to sustain anything close to the numbers. As a result, many are starving to death. Some will attempt to enlarge their range in search of food and will become roadkill. Sustenance will be short-lived at best.
Strauss won't speculate on how many might survive. But their prospects are dismal. In the short term, the creatures that will benefit are turkey vultures.
"Your turkey vultures are going to have a heyday for a couple of weeks," she says. "They're going to have a smorgasbord and all the other scavenger species will have a smorgasbord, and then that will be over."
Repeated calls to Lang Farms went unanswered.
The number of mink retrieved and recovered should be updated Friday morning, says Stearns County Sheriff Chief Deputy Jon Lentz. Meanwhile, the investigation has yet to yield "any concrete leads," he says.
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