Provincial police are investigating after animal rights activists are suspected of breaking into Glenwood Fur Farms just east of St. Marys, Ont. and releasing up to 1,600 mink from their pens.
The mink were released on a rainy, cold Saturday night and it wasn't until the next morning when a passing driver, who noticed the mink roaming the property, alerted a family member of the owner.
Kirk Rankin, president of the Canadian Mink Breeders Association, owns a nearby ranch and spent his Sunday helping to catch the mink.
He said a hole was cut through the chain link fence that surrounds the property and mink in the two biggest sheds were released.
"[There were] mink running around everywhere. Some with a kit in their mouth. Some of them rolling around fighting each other. Some of them curled up sleeping in the sawdust that's under the pens," said Rankin.
"It was just unbelievable," he said, noting that while most of the animals stayed on the property, they still gave volunteers a difficult chase. "We had some ranch workers there and neighbours and friends and we were all just catching, [as] fast as we could catch them."
Rankin said about 97 to 98 per cent of the mink have been recovered.
All of the escaped mink were nursing mothers, according Rankin, who added that their 7,000 to 8,000 recently born kits, the term used to describe a newborn mink, cannot survive without their mothers for another couple of weeks.
"[Mothers] provide the heat and the food and they let all these mink out. I had a lousy night's sleep thinking about all that I've seen and did after you get home thinking about it," said Rankin.
Rankin said the mothers are kept in individual pens with their kits, and now they are unsure which mothers belong to which kits.
"You don't know who they are anymore and you just have to hope the motherly instinct takes over and they raise these kits. We aren't going to know for a few days, several days to how that works out," said Rankin.
As of Monday morning, farm owner Jeff Richardson said he had checked on the pens and found 50 mink that had died from either exposure, or injuries from fighting other mink.
He said at least a dozen others were killed by passing cars, run over on a nearby country road.
As for the dozens of mink that are still missing, Rankin warns people against approaching the animals.
"They went around to their neighbours and handed out live traps. If you don't know anything about mink, you don't want to be catching them," said Rankin. "They're still nasty, they'll bite. They can hurt you."
OPP investigating break-in
Ontario Provincial Police from the Sebringville detachment will be stepping up patrols in the area over the next couple of days as they investigate the break-in.
As for suspects, Rankin said whoever it was didn't leave a calling card.
"Nobody left a sign or spray-painted anything. We assume it's animal rights thought they were doing someone a favour," said Rankin. "You couldn't have picked a worst time to do it, and probably a worse night to do it. With that wind and cold it was down to 6 to 7 C."
Richardson believes the break-in was the work of a group of people, with the intent to shut the farm down.
"I think they planned on releasing the females and letting the litters die and hoping that that would close the operation. They definitely would have seen mothers with litters of 8 or 9, very young, 30-day old kits. They had plenty of opportunity to stop what they were doing if they didn't realize it before," said Richardson.
"All the effort that they put into it, the sheer number of cages that they opened, tells me that they were here with an agenda and were willing to risk getting caught to free mothers and let the young litters die."
Rankin said the farm will lose substantial revenue from the break-in, but how much is yet to be determined. It will depend on how many mothers and kits survive the next couple of weeks.
"I haven't even thought about economic losses at this point," said Richardson. "It's been 100 per cent just focusing on keeping them alive and making sure that the animals are comfortable."