The Tribune Democrat, Johnstown, PA

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September 26, 2013

Hundreds of mink released

Animal rights group claims responsibility

EBENSBURG — An animal rights activist group is claiming responsibility for opening the doors of what its claims to be hundreds of cages at a Cambria Township farm, releasing more than 600 mink.

The Animal Liberation Front is claiming responsibility for the illegal activity on the George Rykola mink farm in the 500 block of Colver Road, Ebensburg.

The actions are a violation of the federal Animal Enterprise Terrorism Act and the FBI has been contacted to help in the investigation, said Michael Whelan, executive director of the Fur Commission USA, a mink farm trade organization.

Phone calls to the mink farm went unanswered Thursday while Cambria Township police Chief Mark Westrick said he is just beginning his investigation.

“The number of animals let loose is not known,” Westrick said. “One of our officers actually saw one of them on the road.”

The group’s actions occurred late Tuesday night and was made public by the “Bite Back” magazine, an animal rights publication based in West Palm Beach, Fla.

In an unsolicited email, the magazine said credit for the actions at the Rykola farm came to them anonymously.

Along with setting an estimated 500 to 600 mink loose, the liberation group said it also destroyed hundreds of breeding cards, many with notations of price which range from $1,000 to $10,000 per animal.

“Where is this group even from? We have no leads on them,” Westrick said.

Quick action by those at the Rykola farm and neighbors resulted in the “rescue” of 90 percent to 95 percent of the mink shortly after the group’s action, Whelan said.

“These are domestic animals. They can’t survive in the wild,” he said. “Within 24 hours, they’ll die of dehydration.”

While mink are native to Pennsylvania, these species of ranch mink developed for the fur industry have been around since the 1860s and have no idea about finding food and water, he said.

“A lot of them die of stress. They hear traffic and think it’s the grain truck, so they run onto the roads and get run over,” Whelan said.

Of concern to those living in the Cambria Township area should be cats, chickens and birds that nest in the ground, he said.

While the domestic mink doesn’t know how to hunt for food, they are dangerous and very territorial and will kill anything they encounter.

“They’ll  kill every cat. They’ll kill every chicken. You don’t want to try to pick them up,” Whelan said.

Bob Noonan, editor of the Maine-based Trapper’s Post, said the liberation group specifically picks this time of year because winter is approaching and it’s time for the pelting season.

“This is when they can do the most economic harm to the farmers,” he said. “They believe it is murder to kill an animal.”

According to most recent information available from the state, there are 11 mink farms in Pennsylvania with four of them, including the Rykola operation, in Cambria County.

Cambria Township Supervisor Buzzy Shook described George Rykola as an “elderly gentleman” whose operation was large enough to employ a number of family members.

It as been in operation for more than 30 years, he said.

“It’s real low-key. Most of the people in Cambria Township don’t even know the place is there,” Shook said.

Whelan said Rykola, who he said is 93 years old, is devastated by the what he described as an act of terrorism.

“It’s not just a prank.

“These people basically took his life away from him,” he said.

Kathy Mellott covers agricultural issues for The Tribune-Democrat. Follow her on Twitter at twitter.com/kathymellotttd.

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