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The experiment with a 'smart' trap gives hope that the American mink can be eradicated from the UK.
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The experiment with a ‘smart’ trap gives hope that the American mink can be eradicated from the UK.

A number of mustelids, known as American minks, which had escaped from fur farms, have significantly reduced the numbers of water voles and other native wildlife such as birds, fish, and amphibians. However, efforts have been made to eliminate them from a wide area in East Anglia.

In the past, attempts to remove mink from large areas of Britain have been unsuccessful. However, a recent trial using drops from their pungent anal scent gland to attract them into traps has shown promising results, giving hope that the species can be eliminated from the entire country.

Over the course of four years, 441 technologically advanced traps were utilized to capture minks. Through monitoring, it was determined that there was no indication of mink breeding in 2023 in central and eastern Norfolk and Suffolk. This area covers 5,852 square kilometers, which accounts for almost 5% of England’s total land area.

The “core area” was safeguarded by additional traps in a “buffer zone” spanning 60km, which blocked mink from entering from the western and southern directions.

In 2019, a group of conservation organizations and water management groups collaborated to create the Waterlife Recovery Trust, with the goal of conducting a mink eradication experiment.

Tony Martin, the leader of the WRT and a renowned specialist in eliminating non-native predators to protect native animals, stated: “Until this point, completely eradicating American mink from Britain seemed unattainable, but the results of this experiment give hope that the devastating impact on our precious native wildlife can finally come to an end.”

Currently, it is a urgent competition to eliminate mink before they completely eliminate our remaining water vole population and further harm seabird colonies that have already been impacted by avian influenza.

The population of water voles in Britain has drastically decreased by 96% since 1950 due to a combination of factors including loss of habitat and the presence of non-native mink, who consider the voles an easy target.

The North American mustelid has caused significant harm to coastal seabird colonies that are close enough for the amphibious mink to reach, resulting in the loss of adult birds and chicks.

Despite the widespread attention gained in the 1990s from animal rights activists releasing American mink from fur farms, these animals had already been introduced into the wild back in the 1950s. This was a result of mink escaping from one of the 400 fur farms present in Britain.

In the past, mink have been eliminated from small regions, but they quickly return once trapping ceases. However, there is optimism that implementing a more effective approach on a larger scale will lead to long-term sustainability.

The WRT group, consisting of numerous volunteers, utilized the mink’s strong sense of smell by hanging empty golf balls in the traps. These balls contained cigarette filters soaked with a small amount of anal scent from previously captured mink, effectively attracting additional mink.

The intelligent traps sent notifications via text and email to their supervisors whenever the door closed, leading to a quick reaction that enhances animal well-being and decreases the frequency of trap checks.

Julie Hanna, a conservation expert at Natural England, the UK’s animal protection agency, backed the experiment and stated: “The findings of the trial are promising and we anticipate they will contribute to the restoration of water vole populations, as well as positively impacting other species impacted by the presence of American mink.”

The Environment Act 2021 has introduced new measures for preserving species, which will help the government meet its obligations to stop the decline of species as mandated by law.

Source: theguardian.com