The Tribune Democrat, Johnstown, PA

October 8, 2013

Group offering $5,000 reward in mink release

Kathy Mellott
kmellott@tribdem.com

JOHNSTOWN — A mink farm trade organization is reaching out to the public in the hopes someone will provide information regarding the illegal release of hundreds of mink last month.

A $5,000 reward is being offered by the Fur Commission USA for information leading to the arrest and conviction of the parties responsible for the Sept. 24 release on the George Rykola farm in Cambria Township.

“The perpetrators are not heroes or idealists,” said Michael Whelan, executive director of the Fur Commission. “They are felons that break in and destroy people’s livelihoods, terrorizing families in the dead of night.”

An animal rights activist group claimed responsibility for going onto the Rykola farm and opening the cases of hundreds of mink.

News of the action by the Animal Liberation Front came through “Bite Back,” an animal rights magazine based in West Palm Beach, Fla.

The action is a federal crime under the Animal Enterprise Terrorism Act and the FBI has become involved, Whelan said.

Estimates are that 500 to 600 mink were released into the wild, animals that have never had to forage for food or look out for vehicles, Whelan said.

Quick action by family members at the farm and neighbors resulted in the rescue of as many as 90 percent of the animals. Some of the rest have been turning up on the highway and in the yards of residents in Cambria Township and Ebensburg.

“In the first week we had less than a dozen sightings,” Cambria Township police Chief Mark Westrick said Tuesday. “About a half dozen were hit on the road and for a while there was one hanging around in Ebensburg near the fairground.”

Westrick said he’s received no leads that might lead to any arrests and has turned the investigation over to the state police and FBI.

“They’re better equipped to do this investigation than our department,” he said. “But if we get any information, we’ll provide assistance.”

Along with releasing the mink, the liberation front also destroyed years of detailed breeding records, a pattern seen elsewhere, Whelan said.

“Over the last six weeks, animal rights extremists have been attacking family mink farms all over North America,” he said.

Anyone with information is asked to call 717-983-8477 or any local FBI field office, Whelan said.



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