Dead mink are reportedly busting out of their mass graves in Denmark, weeks after the country began culling thousands-to-millions of the animals over coronavirus concerns. According to the Guardian, the decomposition process has been causing some carcasses to bloat and overflow their burial sites.
Now, the situation with the “zombie mink,” as the Danish media has christened them, has reportedly gotten so bad that the government is exploring exhuming thousands of the bodies and burning them.
CNN reports that the swelling and the surprise resurfacing may be attributable to the chemicals used to kill the mink. Last week, however, Thomas Kristensen, a national police spokesman, assured viewers of Denmark’s state broadcasting company (DR) that they are witnessing a “natural process.”
“As the bodies decay, gases can be formed,” Kristensen said, according to the Guardian. “This causes the whole thing to expand a little. In this way, in the worst cases, the mink get pushed out of the ground.”
The decision to slaughter what began as millions of mink was controversial from the start, and stemmed from the discovery that COVID-19 had been spreading through the country’s farms. As the world’s largest mink pelt exporter, Denmark was home to as many as 15 to 17 million of the animals before early November. But after authorities discovered a mutated form of the coronavirus circulating within their ranks — and after that strain was confirmed to have infected at least 12 people — the government announced that it would cull all its mink, fearing that a new strain of the virus could interfere with a vaccine’s efficacy.
Per the New York Times, it’s presently unclear whether or not a mutation might affect inoculation efforts, but regardless, the slaughter prompted public backlash and disputes within the government. Per the Times, a political crisis has unfolded, forcing agricultural minister to step down Morgens Jensen, and officials to halt the cull halfway through. Now, they are refocusing only on areas where the mutated strain had been detected.
Still, the Guardian reports that 10 million mink may have been killed so far, many of them deposited in “shallow pits.” (CNN and NBC both place the death toll at 17 million.) In West Jutland, for example, police dumped thousands of tiny corpses into trenches on a military field, only to have them reappear weeks later. According to the Guardian, Kristensen insisted that this is merely the unfortunate side effect of the region’s light, sandy soil, and officials have been piling on dirt to cover up the sprawl.
But apparently, local media outlets have also raised concerns that, in the rush to rid the country of all mink, bodies may have been buried precariously close to lakes and underground reserves that supply drinking water. Some mayors have reportedly demanded the corpses been disinterred and incinerated. Meanwhile, the Guardian reports that the Danish environment ministry has placed the area under 24-7 surveillance until a fence goes up, “to avoid potential problems for animals and humans.”
Still, round-the-clock monitoring does not feel like the most sustainable solution, and Rasmus Prehn — who replaced Jensen as agricultural minister — told Denmark’s TV2 on Friday that he would like to dig up the graves. Prehn would need the environmental agency’s approval in order to burn the minks, but according to the Guardian, a majority of Danish parliament has approved the idea. Another grim twist in an increasingly distressing news story.
This article has been updated.