Denmark Races to Dig Up the Millions of Dead Mink It Just Killed

After culling 15 million minks in November, Denmark is now digging up millions of bodies over concerns that they could pollute the surrounding area.
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 A truck unloads dead mink into a ditch as members of Danish health authorities assisted by members of the Danish Armed Forces bury the animals in a military area near Holstebro, Denmark on November 9, 2020. Image: MORTEN STRICKER/Ritzau Scanpix/AFP via Getty Images

Denmark is digging up mass graves containing the bodies of millions of dead mink after a report from the country’s environmental agency warned that they could contaminate local groundwater. 

Last year, Danish officials reported that minks were infecting humans with a mutated COVID-19 strain, leading to harsh containment measures and the eventual decision to cull Denmark’s entire 17 million mink population in November of 2020. Denmark has one of the largest mink industries in the world, with the country exporting the mammal’s fur to high-fashion companies and coat manufacturers. 

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Ever since the government’s decision to kill the minks, however, just about everything seems to have been gone wrong. 

First, Danish officials culled the animals illegally, leading to the eventual resignation of former Minister of Agriculture Mogens Jensen and calls for the entire government to resign. 

Then, millions of minks were hastily buried in mass graves that were not actually deep enough. Overtime, the gases released from the decaying bodies meant that some deceased mink resurfaced, in what daily national newspaper Berlingske described as “zombie mink rising from the grave.” 

After locals complained of foul smells and the Danish Environmental Protection Agency estimated that the bodies will pollute local groundwater in two to three years, Danish parliamentarians agreed to remove them in December, but work only just started last week. 

“The disposal of the minks did not go optimally,” Rasmus Prehn, Minister of Food, Agriculture, and Fisheries told the daily German newspaper Tagesschau. “Ideally, they would have been incinerated straight away, but we had capacity issues and chose the disposal option instead.” 

“I think many wish this could have been avoided,” Prehn continued. “But that’s what we decided at the time, and that decision came under a lot of pressure. 

After the operation has concluded, the Danish Veterinary and Food Administration plans to set up treatment plants for the water in the area. Meanwhile, the excavated mink bodies will be incinerated. In total, the operation is expected to last two months. 

But for local residents it seems like things will only be getting worse in the immediate future, with officials warning of a “major odor nuisance” as the mammals are dug up. 

The Ministry of Food, Agriculture, and Fisheries did not immediately respond to a request for comment.