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"Mink Stolen": Animal rights group say it released hundreds of fur-bearing species from Pa. farm

TO GO WITH AFP STORY BY MARTINE PAUWELS (FILES) A group of minks take shelter in a hole in the ground after they and more than 10,000 others were released from a breeding facility in the eastern German town of Grabow by unknown persons on October 26, 2007. The Netherlands are the third largest producer in the world, and Dutch MPs will examine a draft in parliament prohibiting the breeding of mink on May 19, 2009, in the Netherlands on moral grounds, triggering an uproar by the Dutch mink farmers. AFP PHOTO DDP FILES JENS SCHLUETER**GERMANY OUT** (Photo credit should read JENS SCHLUETER/AFP/Getty Images)
JENS SCHLUETER
Mink
Jens Schlueter/AFP/Getty Images

(CBS/AP) EBENSBURG, Pa. - An animal rights group says it released hundreds of mink from cages at a western Pennsylvania mink farm. 

The Animal Liberation Front was claiming responsibility, according to an anonymous statement sent to Bite Back, an animal rights publication based in West Palm Beach, Fla.

A police officer saw a few of the animals on a road early Wednesday, Sept. 25 and contacted the family of 92-year-old George Rykola, who raises mink on a farm in rural Cambria County, police in Cambria Township said.

Someone had gotten on the property and released hundreds of mink from their cages, also destroying some cages and records, Rykola told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.

The species developed for the fur industry have no idea how to find food and water, Michael Whelan, executive director of the Fur Commission USA, a mink farm trade organization, told The (Johnstown) Tribune-Democrat.

"These are domestic animals," he said. "They can't survive in the wild."

Animal liberation activists pick this time of year for such actions because winter is approaching and it's time for the pelting season, said Bob Noonan, editor of Maine-based Trapper's Post.

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

Rykola said mink coats aren't worn by many Americans these days, and Greece and China are now his most lucrative markets.

"I don't think a mink farmer is doing anything wrong by pelting," he said. At one time, there were 30-odd mink farmers in the area, but now, there are only four, he said.

Rykola said he and other family members have raised mink on the farm about 90 miles east of Pittsburgh for almost six decades.

"We've always lived a peaceful life here," he said.

Police Chief Mark Westrick estimated that fewer than 500 animals were released, and the majority were recaptured.