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March 17, 2011

Paralyzed Mink to Walk the Wild Again

After a roadside rescue and veterinary care at Cape Wildlife Center, a healed wild mink will soon be released

The Humane Society of the United States / The Fund for Animals

  • This wild mink came to the Cape Wildlife Center injured, and will walk away healthy. Heather Fone/The HSUS

  • A wild mink recovers in his outside pen at Cape Wildlife Center. Heather Fone/The HSUS

  • A wild mink recovers at Cape Wildlife Center. Heather Fone/The HSUS

  • A wild mink recovers at Cape Wildlife Center. Heather Fone/The HSUS

  • A wild mink recovers at Cape Wildlife Center. Heather Fone/The HSUS

  • The Cape Wildlife Center veterinary care facility is the only full-service hospital ward for wildlife on the Cape. Heather Fone/The HSUS

by Julie Hauserman

A little mink with a button nose and a white patch on his chin is just about ready to resume his life in the wild, thanks to kind rescuers and well-timed veterinary care at Cape Wildlife Center.

Most people are familiar with domestic minks, bred solely to be killed, skinned and used in the fur trade. Wild minks, like the one rescued on Cape Cod, are relatives of ferrets, and they are secretive creatures—you might have one living nearby, but you probably wouldn’t know it. They occupy an important ecological niche, keeping rodents in check along ditches, swamps and streambeds.

Roadside rescue

The wild mink was paralyzed and seemed near death when he arrived at the wildlife center in Barnstable, Mass. Someone had thrown him out of a car—it is possible they picked the injured wild mink up as “road kill” and discarded him back along the road when they saw he was still alive.

Fortunately for the mink, good Samaritans who were following that car pulled over, collected the mink, and brought him to Cape Wildlife on February 12.

Recovering from paralyzing injuries

When he examined the mink, Dr. Roberto Aguilar felt “a huge knot of tissue right at the base of its neck.”

“The vertebrae (bones) in his neck were out of line, and the swelling was keeping him from breathing and swallowing properly. The infected tissue was pushing his neck up, and it was making him appear paralyzed, probably by compressing his spine.”

Minks often bite each other’s necks when they fight, and Aguilar imagines that’s what happened to this one.

Aguilar put the mink on strong antibiotics and emergency medications to bring the infection down.

“Three days later, he was looking better,” Aguilar said.

But because his throat hurt, the mink wouldn’t eat. Liquids and paste food were administered until the mink got stronger. Once he grew stronger, the mink acted ready to go—he rattled the top of his cage so much that the staff moved him to an outside pen, where he has plenty of leaf cover to hide in.

“He’s active, he’s alert, and he’s eating well,” Aguilar said.

The Massachusetts Department of Fisheries and Wildlife has given the go-ahead for the mink to be released, and before long, he will be taken to a suitable slice of habitat and set free.

Keeping the population of wild minks healthy is important, Aguilar said, to keep ecological balance.

Minks key link in ecological chain

The story of the black-footed ferret—a relative of the mink and one of the most endangered mammals in North America—illustrates the point about ecological balance.

As settlers in the American West started plowing land and killing prairie dogs as "varmint," the population of black-footed ferrets plunged. Black-footed ferrets depend on prairie dogs for food, and it turns out that the prairie ecosystem depends on prairie dogs, too. The rodents act as little bulldozers, turning over the earth and creating habitat for various animal and botanical species. The black-footed ferrets have the job of keeping prairie dog numbers in balance. To restore the ferret population, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has been raising black-footed ferrets in captivity and reintroducing them into the wild since the late 1980s.

Fortunately, the population of wild minks in North America is a healthy one right now, says Aguilar.

“Wild minks are an important link in the big chain,” Aguilar said. “They are very good hunters, and they don’t bother people. They are just beautiful animals, and they are necessary.”

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