The American Mink
Fur farming isn’t a topic we’ve had much cause to touch on so far in this series. But today, we look at a species that was introduced specifically for that purpose, whose presence in Europe is disliked by ecologists and animal rights activists alike.
What are they?
The American mink is a mustelid, a member of the family that includes weasels, otters, and the wolverine. They are one of the most farmed animals worldwide for fur, which led to the establishment of mink farms all over Europe in the early 20th century. They are capable hunters, swimmers and climbers, and will eat anything that moves, from fish to frogs to birds. They are the only remaining species of their genus, thanks to the extinction of the Sea Mink, but due to their extensive farming worldwide, they are in no danger of dying out any time soon. They are a common target of animal rights activists, who have orchestrated ‘liberations’ from fur farms and campaigned against their use.
How did they get here?
If you introduce a new species for farming, you can almost guarantee that they’re going to escape and spread. We’ve already seen this with the Sitka Spruce, the Red King Crab and the Canada Goose. So it’s no surprise that with their introduction to Europe last century, they spread quickly throughout the continent. After initial establishments of feral populations in the early 30s, they were present in every Norwegian state by the the 1950s.
What do they do?
The Mink has managed to reduce the density, or at least breeding density, of at least 30 different European species, including 20 different birds. The majority of this is due to predation, with effects being particularly severe on smaller species. They also outcompete the Eurasian mink, although the presence of otters nearby tends to keep them in check.
How do we stop them?
Honestly at this point we’re stuck with them. Hunting can be encouraged, but their reproductive cycles and the fact that they are so widespread will protect them even from local mainland extinctions. They have the most negative impacts on island populations of birds, so hunting could be coordinated in selected island areas to lessen their impact. Norway introduced plans to have closed all mink fur farms by 2025, so this could help stem population increases.
For more information on the mink, we invite you to read the following studies.
Invasive American Mink: Status, ecology and control strategies by the Norwegian Directorate for Nature Management
Invasive Alien Species Fact Sheet – Neovison vison by the Online Database of the North European and Baltic Network on Invasive Alien Species