THE HAGUE: Mink have contracted coronavirus, adding to the list of animals known to be at risk of catching the virus.
Mink at two fur farms in the Netherlands tested positive for COVID-19 a week ago, the BBC reported.
And last month, it was revealed that lions and tigers at a New York zoo had caught the disease from their keepers.
Coronavirus could be “catastrophic” for endangered wildlife and we must act now to protect them, said Dr Peta Hitchens of the University of Melbourne.
This includes thorough regulation of wildlife trade and trafficking, as well as protection of ecosystems where human encroachment and destruction “has resulted in increased interactions between us and wild animals”.
It’s not surprising that mink have been infected, she added. The list of mammal species infected during the 2003 Sars (severe acute respiratory syndrome) outbreak numbers at least 16, including mink, palm civets, fruit bats, several species of horseshoe bat, red fox, wild boar, raccoon dog, and domestic cats and dogs.
Officials in The Netherlands believe mink contracted the illness from farm workers and the farms have since been put into quarantine.
The creation of new mink farms was banned there in 2013, while existing mink fur farms have until 2024 to close.
Animal rights organisation Peta has written a letter to ministers calling for the farms to be shut down immediately: “Allowing mink farms to maintain business as usual for nearly four more years – in the face of a global crisis stemming from animal exploitation – would be inexcusable from the perspective of both the risk posed to humans and the harm inflicted on the mink themselves.”
Animal protection charity Humane Society International, which campaigns for a global end to the fur trade, has warned of the risk in other countries, where tens of millions of mink, fox, raccoon dogs, chinchillas and rabbits are farmed.
Claire Bass, executive director of Humane Society International/UK, said in addition to animal suffering, the potential for disease spread is another reason for all fashion companies to go fur-free and for governments to shut down “this dirty trade”.
“One of the lessons we must learn from COVID-19 is that we cannot carry on pushing animals to the limit of their endurance without serious consequences for both animal and human health,” she said.
“We urge the Netherlands and other countries in the process of phasing out fur farming to speed up their industry closures, and countries yet to commit to bans, including China and Finland, to do so now.”
A spokesperson for the British Fur Trade Association said: “The case in the Netherlands demonstrates the efficiency of fur farming bio security measures in Europe and the rigorous controls that are in place. The Dutch authorities confirm that there is no further spread of the virus and that the risk of onward transmission is negligible. “
According to a 2016 report released by the Chinese Academy of Engineering, 75% of China’s wildlife trade is dominated by fur production with animals farmed for their fur, such as raccoon dogs, foxes and mink, often ending up at wildlife wet market.