PRAIRIE DU CHIEN, WI—Members of the radical group Animal Liberation Front swept through a 900-square-mile region of Western Wisconsin Monday, freeing an estimated 71,000 cows from their human captors.

One of the newly liberated cows.

"These cows are finally free to run wild through the wilderness," said ski-masked ALF member "Brent," loosing a 200-head Guernsey herd from Milk-Rite Dairy in Reedsburg. "No creature should have to live in servitude to humans."

Within hours of the cows' release, police departments throughout the area began receiving reports of bovine fatalities.

"We've been getting calls all night long," Viroqua police chief Dale Chambers said. "So far, 43 cows have been hit by cars, 11 have fallen off bridges and drowned, and three have been electrocuted from chewing on power lines."

Among the 71,000 freed cows were 450 Jerseys from the Cumberland Dairy Farm near Prairie du Chien, liberated by a team of activists in a midnight raid. The cows were loaded onto trucks, then transported 100 miles north and freed in a forest clearing, where, as of press time, all 450 were standing around eating grass.

The long-distance transport of the Cumberland cows was deemed necessary in light of an event last August, when 80 Milking Shorthorns were released from the Miklewski farm in Beloit, only to wander back into their pens the next day.

"It was the greatest thrill of my life to have personally broken the padlock on the gate that cruelly held these cows," Animal Liberation Front member Ross Kreutzman said. "As long as I live, I'll never forget the lazy, sluggish look in those cows' eyes as I shoved them through the gate with all my might."

Animal activists are hailing the raid as a major victory for cows' rights.

"Cows do not belong in dairy farmers' pens. They belong out in the wilderness, where they may run free with the wolves and bears," PETA spokesperson Linda McCune said. "This raid was an important first step toward returning the proud, majestic cow to its natural environs."

Monday's cow release is the highest-profile raid for the Animal Liberation Front since October 1996, when the group released three million chickens into Yosemite National Park.