Minks pose threat to pets, farm animals

The animals are carnivores; one attacked Herriman family's pet rabbits

By Wina Sturgeon

For the Deseret News

Published: Monday, March 29 2010 12:00 a.m. MDT

Shayna Page and daughter Casidey care for a rabbit that was attacked by a mink.

Tom Smart, Deseret News

Enlarge photo»

HERRIMAN — Shayna Page knew something was wrong when she heard the baby rabbits screaming one morning in February.

The Herriman woman ran outside and saw an animal trying to get into the cages of the rabbits her family raises. When the cat-size animal saw her, it ran away.

"The next day, I went out there and it had killed one of the babies and eaten a leg off two other babies," Page said. "Only one survived. It also ate the toes off eight other rabbits. My 8-year-old daughter was frightened and horrified."

The family put out a trap and caught the animal on the third day. They learned it was a mink.

On an August morning 2½ years earlier, Lindsey McMullin arrived at his family's mink farm to find animal activists had broken into one of the sheds and released all of the minks — 650 animals. The sheds also had been spray-painted with graffiti and the name Animal Liberation Front, an extremist group known for vandalizing farms and research laboratories that raise animals.

McMullin was devastated. "Most of the mink they released were young, 3 to 4 months old," he said. "They wouldn't know how to survive. And we're right in the middle of a suburban area, just a few hundred yards off a six-lane major street used by tens of thousands of cars every day."

The Page family doesn't know if the mink that attacked the rabbits was a survivor from the McMullin farm. Utah has a significant wild mink population that occasionally attacks domestic animals. But mink farming is big here. Utah is the second-largest producer of mink fur in America, and the fourth-largest in the world.

Animal rights groups have vandalized three local mink farms over the past ten years. One rancher in Sandy had 3,500 animals released into the surrounding area. Another in Summit County had 1,500 minks set loose. In the McMullin case, two men who claimed to be part of the Animal Liberation Front, or ALF, were captured by police and convicted of federal crimes. William James Viehl, 23, of Layton, was sentenced to two years in a federal prison.Alex Jason Hall, 21, of Ogden, is scheduled to be sentenced April 12. Viehl appealed his conviction to the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals in Denver March 19.

Minks are small, water-loving animals with partially webbed feet and weigh between three and seven pounds. Closely related to otters, they are members of the weasel family. Like otters, they're extremely quick and agile. They also are ruthless carnivores in the wild, and with their needle-like teeth and long claws will hunt anything smaller, including chickens and even pet cats.

When the McMullins learned what had happened at their farm, the large and extended family rallied and began searching for the released minks. By noon, they had recovered 550 of their animals. Within a week, they were able to find most of the others. But not all of them.

"There were about 50 that we didn't recover," McMullin said. "A high percentage of those were killed on the road. I saw their bodies on the street. We also had mink that fell into window wells in the surrounding subdivisions. It was August, and with the hot sun, they would get dehydrated very quickly."

Working with South Jordan Animal Control, he learned of one mink trapped in a nearby window well and went to rescue it. "It was the middle of the afternoon, two days after they were released, and this window well was directly in the sun. The mink was almost dead; she was dying of thirst. She was so disoriented and lethargic that when I got into the window well, she didn't even try to get away; she just walked over and laid her head on my foot. She survived."

Another mink didn't. McMullin's brother-in-law saw it being chased down a street by two men. By the time he was able to get there, the mink had collapsed. He brought it to McMullin, who tried to revive the animal by trickling water into its mouth.

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