The Dutch government was planning to close mink farms in the Netherlands by 2024 but that has now been brought forward after there have been outbreaks of coronavirus among mink on 41 farms. The farms will now all have to close by March 2021. The Netherlands is not the only country affected and 90,000 mink have been destroyed at a Spanish mink farm after the majority of them were found to be infected. The dynamic of the disease between mink and workers in the farms is as yet unknown but investigations are ongoing to see if it can be spread from mink to humans. Mink farming in Europe is mainly confined to the colder northern European countries but escapes from farms have led to feral American mink spreading south across Europe, which already has scattered feral populations from other escapes or releases. Among the species threatened by mink in Europe is the already critically endangered European mink Mustela lutreola.
The mink farming industry in the UK was closed down in 2004 and we will only come across mink in the wild. It would seem highly unlikely that these would be infected with coronavirus, unlike their intensively reared cousins on the continent. It is good to see more countries closing down their mink farms but in terms of feral mink it is another case of ‘shutting the door after the horse has bolted’ and extensive conservation action will be necessary to contain the environmental damage caused by the species.