By Nancy Tullis, Vindicator, Youngstown, Ohio
Feb. 27–CANFIELD — Beware of mink.
Rich McGowan of Blueberry Hill Drive couldn’t figure out why his Japanese koi were disappearing from the ornamental pond in his front yard.
That was until he was walking his Labrador Retriever, Deuce, and saw a koi out of the water, disappearing down a hole near the pond bank. He said he could tell a brown furry animal had the fish in tow but didn’t know what kind of animal it was.
The mystery of the missing koi was solved last week by wildlife trapper Ken Zebrasky of Salem. Zebrasky said Mahoning Valley residents who find koi and other fish missing from their backyard ponds will likely find the bandit is not the more familiar ring-tailed masked raccoon, but mink.
Zebrasky has been trapping native fur-bearing animals since he was a boy and has been operating Nuisance Wildlife Control, a wildlife removal business, for about 20 years.
At McGowan’s pond, Zebrasky saw skeletal remains and scales of fish all around the bank, and holes along the bank, and he suspected mink.
He said otters, muskrats, raccoons, great blue herons and birds of prey will take their share of fish, but mink do the most damage. They eat more than their share, especially when females are feeding and training young.
Raccoon will take fish out of ponds, but raccoons don’t swim, he said. A raccoon will use its front paws to scoop into the water from the bank and grab fish within reach.
Another fur-bearing Ohio native, the beaver, is also an excellent swimmer but not likely to snatch fish. Beaver can do a lot of damage felling trees and rerouting streams, but they are strict vegetarians, he said.
Mink, however, are excellent swimmers and will dive into the pond, even under ice, and snatch fish. They eat all the flesh off the fish, and pick the bones, as evidenced by the fish skeletons around McGowan’s pond.
Zebrasky said he receives about 50 calls a year from area residents whose fish disappear from backyard ponds, but most of that business is in the summer.
The mink he caught in McGowan’s pond last week is the largest he’s ever seen.
“Mink are beautiful animals, but they aren’t cute and cuddly,” he said. “They aren’t pets. They are very mean and aggressive. People don’t think about mink in this area, but there are lots of them.”
Wild mink are native to North America and have been here as long as raccoon, otter and other fur bearers, he said.
Zebrasky said wild mink are much different from mink raised on mink farms. Farm-raised mink could not survive long in the wild, he said.
Fish are the staple of the wild mink’s diet, Zebrasky said.
“If you have a pond stocked with the fish, they’ll stay until the fish are all gone,” he said. “You created an ideal habitat and gave them a fish market.”
He said the large male mink he trapped last week was there because of the available food supply McGowan provided, and because there’s likely a female mink in the area.
Zebrasky said mink like solitude and are active mostly at night. Anyone who sees one, however, should keep a safe distance.
“I’ve caught them [live] before and you can’t do anything with them,” he said. “They are vicious. They’re quick and have a lot of moves.
“If you have a ‘fur fear,” the mink is the ultimate,” he said. “In Alaska they have been known to fight grizzly bears and win. If mink were the size of a grizzly, we’d all be in trouble.
“If you confront one, be ready to run fast.”
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