Northern Ireland

Escaped mink could be "disaster" for Donegal

A mink
Image caption The escaped mink could have a devastating impact on local wildlife

Police in County Donegal are investigating the release of thousands of American mink from a farm in Ardara on Saturday.

The owners of the farm in the Meenavalley area are blaming what they call "animal liberation terrorists".

The farm held approximately 33,000 mink but most did not leave the perimeter.

However, it is estimated that up to 5,000 of the animals may have made it into the wild.

Many have since been killed by motorists.

Eimear Magee, a conservation ranger for the area, said she was "extremely alarmed" when she heard about the incident.

She said the animals were a major threat to bird colonies.

"The mink don't just take enough to feed themselves, they destroy the whole colony. Once that happens to a tern colony they'll move. They won't get a chance to breed successfully again that year," she said.

American mink were first brought to Ireland in the 1950s to be farmed for their fur. Ms Magee said that since then, many mink have escaped into the wild or have been intentionally released.

"They breed quite prolificly. They have no natural predators here. There's not a waterway in Ireland that doesn't have a mink population."

She said the animals have had a devastating impact on water fowl which are not very good fliers and tend to spend a lot of time on the ground. Populations of moorhen and coot have been seriously damaged by feral mink.

The Irish National Parks and Wildlife Service, local gun clubs and staff from a neighbouring mink farm are assisting with the effort to recapture the runaways.