UPDATE: State police investigating release of thousands of minks outside of Sunbury

SUNBURY — State Police opened an investigation into how 6,000 to 8,000 minks were released into Northumberland County on Sunday. Troopers at the Stonington barracks say they were called to the Richard Stahl Fur Farm, located along Route 890 outside of Sunbury, early Sunday morning for a report that someone cut holes in a fence that surrounds the farm.

The minks were able to escape and by Monday troopers reported that 6,000 to 8,000 minks are now free in the Sunbury area.

Mark Stahl, of Richard Stahl Fur Farm, declined comment Monday, saying he was unsure what happened. Mark Stahl said people should not approach any of the animals if they are seen.

Sunbury Animal Hospital Veterinarian Beverly Shaw said individuals should not approach the animals.“Do not approach, as these animals can be aggressive,” Shaw said. “Keep dogs on a leash and watch when you are letting your animals outside the house.”

Shaw said she is not sure what comes next, but that minks can attack small animals, like kittens, rabbits other smaller animals. Shaw said the area could end up with a mink population for the time being because it would be impossible to catch all 8,000.

Northumberland County District Attorney Tony Matulewicz said his office was made aware of the situation.“We are collaborating with law enforcement agencies to investigate this alleged irresponsible act, he said. “My top priority is for the safety of the residents of Northumberland County and I take that very seriously. These animals will affect other farms and animals in the region, and this could potentially lead to millions of dollars in damages for other farms for other people.”

Pennsylvania Game Commission Lt. Aaron Morrow said his agency was made aware of the situation late Sunday night. “We were notified of the potential of several thousand minks that escaped or were let loose,” he said. “What we are trying to tell the public is if you see a mink to give it space, do not approach or try to pick it up because of the potential of a bite or scratch or exchange of saliva.”

Morrow said if someone sees a mink to report it. “If the public does catch one please reach out to the Sunbury Animal Hospital or if you see one in a confined space, reach out to the hospital,” he said.Morrow said minks are native to Pennsylvania, and he could not say where they will end up while out on the loose.

Morrow said other predators out in the wild may encounter the minks as well. Whether the minks would make their way to the city is also something Morrow said he can’t know for sure. “We obviously don’t know where they will go,” he said.

According to the Pennsylvania Game Commission, minks have excellent hearing and sight, and a good sense of smell. Minks travel at a slow, arch-backed walk or a bounding lope, which they can keep up for miles, according to the game commission. They swim and dive with ease and are most active at night and early morning, and minks can survive the cold weather, game commission officials said.

Minks may curl up and sleep for several days during winter cold spells. Minks are agile and fierce fighters, killing prey with a hard bite to the back of the skull. Mice, voles and muskrats rank as most important foods of mink during all seasons. Other prey include rabbits, shrews, fish, frogs, crayfish, insects, snakes, waterfowl and other birds, eggs, domestic poultry, earthworms and snails. Generally, a mink is an opportunist, feeding on whatever is most easily caught or found.

Mink nest in abandoned woodchuck tunnels, hollow logs, vacant muskrat lodges, holes in stone piles and beneath large tree roots. Dens are usually near water and may have more than one entrance. Mink line their nests with dried grass, leaves and feathers; bones and scraps of kills often litter the nest area, according to the commission’s website.

People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) President Ingrid Newkirk told The Daily Item she urges people who encounter a mink to leave them alone. “Minks are naturally shy and fearful of humans, so PETA urges anyone who sees one to simply leave them alone,” Newkirk said.

On Monday, vehicles traveled along 890 at a slow pace as several deceased minks were scattered across the roadway. The animal hospital said professional trappers were asked that if they caught any minks to bring them to the hospital. Cassie Marks, of Sunbury, helped capture four of the animals to return to the hospital, she said. “We did not touch the animals,” she said. “We just wanted to help out here.”

State police say they are working on recovering as many of the minks as they can, and anyone with information on the incident is asked to contact troopers at 570-286-5601.