Earl Carmel, who owns the mink farm with his wife, Jeanne, is certain that animal-rights activists, whom he calls "antis" or "anti-fur people," are to blame for the farm's loss. "Who else would have done it?" he asked.
Carmel's grandson, Daniel Carmel, reported the mink farm break-in to the Hinsdale Police Department at 3:34 a.m.
According to Officer Ben Pigott, Carmel was on his way to work at a local dairy farm when "he saw that a few mink were running around his truck."
The mink were part of the Carmels' breeding stock between 400 and 500 that had been set free from cages kept in the front of the farm.
Police Chief Christopher K. Powell believes that more than one trespasser was involved.
"They entered the property by cutting a barbed wire fence at numerous locations," Powell said.
Teresa Platt, spokeswoman for Fur Commission USA, a nonprofit representing more than 600 American mink farmers, called the trespassers' release of the minks an act of "ecoterrorism."
"It's usually three to six people driving around causing trouble. They often get into a car and go across a couple of states," Platt said. "They'll hit a shoe store because they are selling leather goods.
$75,000 to $100,000 lost
According to Platt, yesterday's break-in cost the Carmels between $75,000 and $100,000.
At current auction prices, a mink pelt will fetch about $55, and Platt estimates that the Carmels keep between 10,000 and 30,000 mink on the farm for fur production purposes and 500 for breeding.
By 3 p.m., Carmel, with a large net and metal cage in tow, reported that the family had recovered approximately 150 mink from the surrounding area.
"They've killed quite a few of them on the road already," he said, noting that his farm-raised mink will be unable to survive in the wild for more than a few days.
"They'll be all around town," he continued. "I'll be getting calls from Pittsfield, from Dalton."
But problems for the Carmels do not end even with a partial recovery of the mink.
Each animal was stored in a pen that carried detailed information on its lineage; with the mink freed, the owners have no way of knowing what line they come from.
"(The trespassers) have ruined the breeding records," Platt said. "They lost the lineage for each animal. (The Carmels) have to start from scratch and may have to buy new breeding stock."
|What to do|
The Hinsdale Police Department has asked residents to contact their animal control officer at (413) 655-0201 if they sight any mink that may have been set free from Berkshire Furs mink farm.
The police also caution against handling mink: They have sharp teeth and may bite.
"I've already got calls saying I'm a bad man, and that it's good that this has happened," Carmel said.
This is not the first time Berkshire Furs has been vandalized and targeted.
In 1996, four animal-rights activists damaged many of the farm's cages and set up to 1,000 mink free.
They were caught soon after and were tried and convicted in Berkshire District Court,.
"All they got was a slap on the hands and community service," Carmel said.
Consequences more severe
But the Animal Enterprise Terrorism Act, signed into law last November, has made consequences of intentional damage or interference with an animal enterprise more severe.
According to Police Chief Powell, trespassers could face jail time and hefty fines for breaking and entering in the nighttime with the intent of doing criminal acts and for destruction of property.
"We're researching some leads that we have, but we haven't got a lot of physical evidence. So where it goes, it's going to be interesting," Powell said.
|Minks at a glanceo|
The association of mink with fine fur coats makes it difficult for the average person to imagine what the creature looks and acts like live.
The mink is a member of the weasel family with short legs, dark brown fur and a small, slender body. A typical mink measures between 17 and 24 inches in length and weighs between 2 and 4 pounds.
Its cousins include skunks and otters.
Mink are most often found living in grassy areas near lakes, rivers and streams in North America, Northern Europe and Russia.
They are adept swimmers and predators and feed on fish, crayfish, mice, rats, squirrels, frogs and muskrats.
Mink are nocturnal mammals, so they are not usually seen until dusk.