Many people are unaware that mink live not only in South Carolina but also abound in most of the Midlands’ larger lakes, streams, and rivers. In fact, these high-octane little creatures can be found in all contiguous 48 states.
Just 18 inches long and weighing less than 3 pounds, American mink (Neovison vison) are related to other members of the Mustelidae family that includes otters and ferrets. A separate, second species found in isolated areas of Europe is called the European mink. They are solitary and territorial.
Mink typically mate from February through April, and three to six young (kits or cubs) are born about 30 days later. Mink employ delayed implantation so the gestation period can vary. Studies vary on the impact of delayed implantation with estimates ranging from 30 to 91 days. Like many small, high-energy mammals, mink are short lived, with an average life span of only three years in the wild.
Despite their small size, mink are voracious carnivores, spending most of the night along waterways hunting for food. They are skillful hunters, and with a sharp bite to the neck, they kill and feed on almost everything, including a variety of fish, small mammals, frogs, and ducks. Many years ago, a female mink terrorized Riverbanks Zoo’s extensive waterfowl collection — over a period of several weeks, she easily slipped through the zoo’s chain link fence to kill and eat a number of prized ducks.
Even though these elusive creatures are seldom seen, their soft dense fur and the apparel made from it have made them well recognized for centuries. While wild mink can still be legally trapped in most states (including South Carolina), the vast majority of mink fur is now produced on mink farms, most of which are found in Europe. Because of this, the impact of the fur industry on wild populations is negligible. In fact, the abundance of ranch-raised mink has lowered the cost of mink pelts, making trapping wild mink less popular. Like most aquatic animals today, habitat loss (especially wetlands) and environmental pollution are the main contributors to declining wild populations.
Since mink are mainly nocturnal, they are seldom seen. After retiring from Riverbanks Zoo, Becky, my wife, and I moved to Kiawah Island. Not long afterward, she was riding her bicycle along one of the island’s many golf course paths late one afternoon. She returned to the house to excitedly relate that she had seen four small, brown animals bounding quickly across the fairway towards the marsh. I showed her photographs, and she immediately declared that her mystery animals were indeed a family of mink. In all my years working and walking the banks of the Saluda River and spending much of my leisure time outdoors, I have never once seen a wild mink. That’s what I love about nature.
Satch Krantz, former president and CEO of Riverbanks Zoo and Garden whose career there spanned 44 years, led the zoo to national prominence. He received the R. Marlin Perkins award from the Association of Zoos and Aquariums, the highest recognition for zoo professionals, as well as The Order Of The Palmetto, the highest civilian honor awarded in South Carolina.