The numbers & time frame don’t add up, & neither does the money
VAN WERT, Ohio––Something happened at a mink farm here. What it is ain’t exactly clear, despite saturation coverage by both local and national media.
Van Wert County Sheriff Thomas M. Riggenbach announced on November 15, 2022 that his office “is investigating a breaking & entering/vandalism complaint at Lion Farms USA mink farm in Hoaglin Township that occurred during the overnight hours. Suspect(s) destroyed fencing, and approximately 25,000-40,000 mink were released from their cages,” Riggenbach posted to social media.
This would have made the Lion Farms USA mink release the second largest on record.
Persons still officially unknown and at large in July 2017 allegedly released 38,000 mink from Lang Farms in Eden Valley, Minnesota. But many of those mink were kittens, not yet weaned, who may have been cannibalized in the chaotic hours afterward, and as at Lion Farms USA, the number of mink involved may have been greatly exaggerated.
Number of allegedly released mink rapidly fell
Van Wert County Sheriff Riggenbach at approximately 3:30 p.m. on November 15, 2022 amended his previous statement.
“It is estimated that 10,000 minks are unaccounted for at this time,” Riggenbach said, bringing the number down to near the high end of the biggest numbers claimed after previous releases of mature mink.
“The original estimate of released mink,” Riggenbach explained, “was provided by the property manager due to the number of minks let loose from their cages. The property owner has advised the sheriff’s office that many minks remained on the property and were corralled by employees working at the farm.”
Riggenbach made no mention of whatever might have been shown on the security cameras that presumably every fur farm would have by now, three decades after mink releases became relatively common.
How many mink were actually released from their cages, why, by whom?
How many of those mink got past the Lion Farms USA perimeter fence?
Convicted fur farm raider questions time frame
None of the obvious questions had obvious answers, but both mainstream and alternative media rapidly jumped to conclusions.
Only convicted Animal Liberation Front fur farm raider Joseph Buddenberg reportedly questioned that the Lion Farms USA raid was actually committed by animal rights activists, who have targeted many other mink farms over the past 30 years.
Buddenberg, according to an apparent acquaintance named John Boland, who posted Buddenberg’s comments on social media, “says this action hasn’t been claimed by ALF and he thinks it’s not feasible for activists to free 40,000 mink in one night due to time constraints. He alleges insurance fraud is probable.”
Could you release mink at 10 seconds per cage?
As ranched mink approaching the pelting season are singly housed, they would have to be released one at a time. Even if this could be done in ten seconds per cage, cutting the fence, breaking into the mink barns, and releasing 10,000 mink from their cases would take not less than 17 hours, using lights, which in themselves would be conspicuous.
Eddie Meyer, site manager for Lion Farms USA, told WANE 15 of Fort Wayne, Indiana, that “The break-in must have happened between 1 a.m. and 4 a.m.”
A team of four or five experienced people might be able to release 10,000 mink within three or four hours. Releasing 25,000 to 40,000 would take from midnight to dawn.
Were that many mink even there?
Were there 25,000 to 40,000 mink, or even 10,000, at Lion Farms USA in the first place, in a year when both ranched mink pelt prices and the volume sold at auction are sharply down?
Two days after the mink release, WEWS-TV reported from Cleveland, Ohio that Sheriff Riggenbach was still saying “approximately 10,000 are unaccounted for,” but did any significant number really remain at large?
Michael Sandlin of WTOL in Toledo told viewers that “So many mink were dead on the road [U.S. 127, a two-lane blacktop highway less than a quarter mile from the back of the Lion Farms USA mink barns, “that the Van Wert County Sheriff’s Office called in a snow plow to remove their bodies.”
Very likely some mink ran in that direction and were road-killed, but U.S. 127 does not attract much traffic in the wee hours of the morning, and the WROL video showed only four dead mink, one live mink in a corn field, and one man shooting into a ditch, presumably to kill another loose mink. The highway did not show the bloodstains one might expect from even one animal being killed there, let alone animals in significant numbers.
TaTiana Cash of WTOL reported two days later, on November 17, 2022, that “Owners of Lion Farms USA said about 30,000 mink, about 80%, have been accounted for, leaving possibly 10,000 others still on the loose.”
The listed Lion Farms USA owners, however, appear to be realtor Beatriz Gandara Rossi and Michael Van Kampen, of Tarragona, Spain.
The Lion Farms USA telephone number traces to Rien Leeijen and Pierre Leeijen of the Leeyen Group, self-described as “a Netherlands-based company that has mink farms in several countries around the world.”
Cannibalism & COVID-19
This presumably does not currently include the Netherlands, which reportedly permanently closed all mink farms in the nation in March 2021, due to repeated outbreaks of COVID-19 among ranched mink. COVID-19 was discovered in at least one Leeyen Group facility.
The Leeyen Group also owned Lithuanian mink farms that became notorious after undercover videographers exposed mink at those facilities cannibalizing each other.
Rien Leeijen and Pierre Leeijen more recently have stirred controversy with real estate dealings in Maastricht, Netherlands.
Did any of the European owners fly to Van Wert to count mink?
$40 a pelt at what auction, where?
Fur Commission USA executive director Challis Hobbs told TaTiana Cash, Cash relayed, that “With the typical price for one mink running about $40 dollars, Lion’s losses are not a drop in the bucket.”
Said Hobbs, “You’re looking at $1.6 million dollars [for] just the livestock loss. We’re not talking the vandalism, the graffiti, the fences broken, the cages torn apart, the barns vandalized.”
So, while rushing to allegedly release an improbably large number of mink before dawn, the purported raiders took time to leave behind graffiti, tear apart cages, and vandalize barns?
Curiouser and curiouser, and even more so in view that only two of the 12 grades of ranched mink pelt offered at the most recent Fur Harvesters Auction fetched prices as high as $40.00, only 20% of the top-priced pelts sold at all, the average pelt price was only $22.83, and 53% of the 96,945 mink pelts on the block went unsold.
That would be 51,381, markedly more than the number of mink allegedly released from Lion Farms USA, whatever that number was.
40,000 mink would have equaled Ohio wild mink carrying capacity
The U.S. Animal Liberation Press Office in a media release dated November 15, 2022 at 7:14 appeared to support the Fur Commission USA claim that graffiti was left at Lion Farms USA, at least, while denying that the release of tens of thousands of mink would result in any significant harm either to those mink who actually escaped, or the local habitat.
If in fact as many as 40,000 mink had been released into the ecosystem, that would have been equal to the total estimated carrying capacity for wild mink of the entire state of Ohio.
“Although no communique has yet been received by the North American Animal Liberation Press Office,” the media release said, “the Animal Liberation Front (ALF) left their insignia at the site.
“As the pelting season grows to a close,” the media release continued, “these animals were slated for certain death by anal electrocution, gassing or clubbing within the next few weeks, at the age of around seven months, when it is most profitable for their owners to kill them.”
The North American Animal Liberation Press Office acknowledged “two previous liberations this month, at Tonn’s Mink Farm, 3270 Pigeon Run Road SW, in Massillon, Ohio, operated by Dennis and Wanda Tonn, and Pipkorn Mink Ranch in Powers, Michigan, run by Thomas and Steve Pipkorn.”
The numbers of mink involved in those cases were in the hundreds, a plausible range.
The U.S. Animal Liberation Press Office disputed statements by Nature’s Nursery Center for Wildlife Rescue and Rehabilitation executive director Allison Aye and Fur Commission USA executive director Challis Hobbs about the probable outcome of the Lion Farm USA mink release.
Hobbs estimated, based on mink farming practice, that the released mink would need about 1.5 pounds of food per day. Wild mink, exercising more, might need more food as well.
“1,600 chickens a day”
“At 10,000 mink, you’re talking 1,600 chickens a day they’d need to find,” Hobbs told TaTiana Cash of WTOL
“There’s really a small time window in here,” Hobbs continued. “Three days with this kind of [cold] weather, this kind of element exposure, and tough access to water, they’ll all be dead.”
Aye, Cash added, “said mink are aggressive hunters willing to prey on any animal as much as two times their size.”
Said Aye, “Now you’re wiping out the rodents, the smaller squirrels, chipmunks and things like that. You’ve got raptors and the other animals that normally feed on them that are going to be leaving that area to find food elsewhere.”
These outcomes have occasionally been documented after previous mink releases, but as Hobbs mentioned, most ranched mink released to the wild fare poorly.
Some, however, do survive, having established feral populations after mink releases in Europe.
As mink are an abundant North American native species, survivors of North American releases––other than those of unusual color strains––would be indistinguishable from native populations.
The fundamental problem for released mink in North America would be finding enough food fast enough to support dispersal, and then finding unoccupied habitat capable of supporting them.
Wild mink normally disperse to a population density of not more than three for every two square miles.
Yet another question unanswered, as yet, is whether any of the Lion Farms USA mink might have been infected with COVID-19, as were reportedly any of the Leeyen Group mink in the Netherlands.
Warned Beth Harvilla of The Columbus Dispatch on December 19, 2020, “As coronavirus cases continue to surge across Ohio, mink could pose a risk of transmitting the infection to humans.”
Confirmed Michael Oglesbee, a veterinarian and director of the Ohio State University Infectious Diseases Institute, “People can transmit the virus to mink. The mink can transmit the infection to other mink, and more importantly, they can transmit the infection back to people.”
Lion Farms USA site manager Eddie Meyer explained to Harvilla the precautions taken at that time, but despite similar precautions, COVID-19 has afflicted mink at many other fur farms, within the U.S. as well as throughout Europe.
So far, there appears to have been no mention of either live mink or dead mink from the Lion Farms USA release being tested for COVID-19 infection.