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The return of the animal liberation movement
Animal rights extremists are ramping up their decades-old war against the fur industry
 
Roaring back to life.
Roaring back to life. (REUTERS/Albeiro Lopera)

The animal liberation movement is back with a vengeance.

In the past three months, animal rights activists have staged at least eight nighttime raids on American mink farms, releasing around 7,700 of the furry beasts — the equivalent of more than $770,000 worth of pelts — into the wild. That is more raids than in the previous three years combined, says The New York Times.

The North American Animal Liberation Press Office — which calls itself a conduit for messages from anonymous animal rights activists — also notes that "at least three suspicious fires" have broken out at mink farms since December 2011. That includes a blaze earlier this month at a Detroit Lakes, Mich., mink ranch that caused $500,000 worth of damage.

"Until every last fur farmer has been displaced, bankrupted, or destroyed, liberationists acting on behalf of dis-empowered animals will continue their campaign," read an Oct. 12 post on the site.

Animal rights activists say their campaign is aimed at a much bigger target than the nation's 300 or so mink farms. "This really isn't about fur in particular; it's about animal exploitation," Peter Young, who runs Animal Liberation Frontline, told the Times. "If cows were able to survive in the wild and had a natural habitat, we'd release cows. Unfortunately, you can't release a cow, so we have to release mink."

That doesn't mean the nation's dairy farms aren't in the activists' sights. This August, a group calling itself Iowans for Animal Liberation covered the Iowa State Fair's butter sculpture in red paint, and scrawled "Freedom for all" on a nearby window.

But activists continue to focus much of their attention on mink ranches because "the industry is defeatable," Young told the Minneapolis Star Tribune. "It'd be much harder to bring down the meat industry, for example."

The latest flurry of raids seems to have been sparked by an anonymous blog post this summer, which updated a list of mink and fox farms first released in 1996. That new list, called "The Final Nail #4," includes farm addresses, instructions on how to free animals from cages, and a most-wanted list of targets.

Activists may also be hoping that their acts of sabotage can halt the fur industry's recent rapid growth. Thanks to surging demand from Russia and China's fast-growing middle class, a single mink pelt now sells for a record $100, up from $41 just five years ago. With demand booming, what was once a backyard business has been transformed into a $350 million industry.

"The Chinese consumer just loves the American mink," Michael Whelan, the executive director of Fur Commission U.S.A., told the Times. "They want all the trappings of success. They want the Mercedes-Benz, they want the Rolex watch and they want the mink coat. We're fortunate to be a part of it."

Ranchers who have seen their prize critters released into the wild accuse animal rights activists of hypocrisy. While the activists may think they're saving the captive minks from a certain death sentence, most of the freed animals — who have spent their entire lives indoors — meet quick and grisly ends. "[They] starve," said Virginia Bonlander, whose Wisconsin farm was raided earlier this month. "They don't know how to hunt for their own food."

Some experts disagree, noting that escaped minks are now thriving in Iceland, Britain, Scandinavia, and the former Soviet Union. "Minks are wild animals raised in captivity," Mark Pimlott, a Canadian wildlife biologist, told the Vancouver Sun. "They will suffer high mortality. But no one can convince me there won't be survivors."

It's likely that many more captive minks will have to get used to life in the great outdoors, as activists predict a flurry of raids in the coming months. "With pelting season still two months away," said Animal Liberation Frontline in a recent post, "this campaign may not even be close to finished."

 
Theunis Bates is a senior editor at The Week's print edition. He has previously worked for Time, Fast Company, AOL News and Playboy.

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