Iowa

DES MOINES, IA (AP)--An underground animal-rights group has claimed responsibility for breaking into a northeast Iowa mink farm and releasing 10,000 of the animals.

Animal Liberation Front said its raid early Thursday at Earl Drewelow and Sons Mink Farm near New Hampton resulted in the largest number of animals ever set free in such an attack.

"We break the law in adherence to a higher law--one which states animals are not commodities, not objects, but sentient creatures with a right to live," said an ALF statement released Friday. "We will fight for the lives of these animals as if they were our own."

Lenny Drewelow said he found every pen empty when he arrived early Thursday at the 60-year-old farm. The mink, which are the size of small housecats, were swarming the farm and the nearby highway, where hundreds were killed by passing cars. Family and friends of the Drewelows helped to collect the animals.

Drewelow, 36, sells the mink fur and oil to clothing and perfume makers. The farm has kept food on the table for three generations, he said.

"It is devastating. It is your worst nightmare, from a business standpoint, to wake up and find this," he said.

Drewelow declined to say how much his family reaps from the New Hampton farm, but experts estimated a similar farm would net $30,000 to $40,000 a year.

Teresa Platt, executive director of Fur Commission USA, estimated damage at the Drewelow farm at $400,000. In 1999, there were 19 mink farms in Iowa producing 123,900 pelts, she said.

Platt warned that ALF's actions usually come in bursts, targeting businesses that are close to each other.

"They move through an area and they'll hit a cattle ranch, they'll hit a research facility, they'll do a crop crushing and they'll hit a fur farm," she said.

"We see it towards the end of summer, just before the school year, so the kids involved are young, and some are hard-core.

"Heads up everybody," Platt said.

ALF claimed responsibility for a break-in Monday at Genesis Laboratories in Wellington, CO, a commercial lab where scores of quail, ducks and rats were released into wild.

In August 1998, ALF attacked Hidden Valley Farms near Guttenberg, releasing 330 foxes. The following day, 3,000 mink were freed from the Isebrand Fur Farm in Jewell. In October 1997, ALF raided the Circle K Fur Farm in Sioux City, freeing 5,000 mink and 100 foxes.

Other attacks on fur farms have been reported in Minnesota, Illinois, Wisconsin and Oregon.

ALF describes itself as an underground movement of people who take nonviolent direct action against animal abuse. The group said in a statement that its goal is "to liberate animals from places of torture and abuse... and to cause as much economic damage as possible to the property of animal abusers."

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