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Open the Cages!
By Rod Coronado

On 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.

The 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 fur animals.

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 began.

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

Beginning 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.

INFILTRATION

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.

IMPRISONED 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.

Once 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 our comprehension.

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

These 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.

The 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 Fur Feeds.

THE RELEASE

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.

THOUGHTS ON LIBERATIONS

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 known.

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.

ECOLOGICAL IMPACT

This 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.

There 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.

Now 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.

Until 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 authorities.

 

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