Wild Horse Populations Exploding, No One-Size-Fits-All Remedy Available  - Horse Racing News | Paulick Report

Wild Horse Populations Exploding, No One-Size-Fits-All Remedy Available 

Though many people see the image of wild horses running free and unencumbered by humans as patriotic symbolism of America's westward expansion, severe drought and waning grazing lands have placed many of these free-roaming horses in perilous welfare situations. 

It's not unusual for mustangs to wander into cities and towns in search of food and water. Many caring residents try to assist the horses, including feeding hay they've purchased themselves. Though well-meaning, this often endangers horses as they are encouraged to wander onto roads in search of food.

The majority of citizens believe wild horses live only on land maintained by the U.S. Bureau of Land Management (BLM), but thousands of horses roam across state, tribal and private lands. The BLM, which manages the wild horses and burros, estimates that there are more than 82,000 equines on federal rangelands in 10 states. This number pales in comparison to the estimated 300,000 free-roaming horses nationwide that the Journal of Wildlife Management reports. 

The 82,000 horses and burros the BLM reports is more than three times the population scientists say is sustainable for a healthy ecosystem. Though it's universally agreed upon that “something” needs to be done, just what – and how that can be accomplished — is up for debate. Some people want the horses to remain wild; others want state and local authorities to have autonomy over how the horses are handled; and still others want to remove the horses from the rangeland and adopt them into new homes.

Proposed legislation in New Mexico which would offer state and counties the authority to manage the horses and set up funding for their care has been stalled for years because of semantics (are these horses “livestock” or “nuisance animals?”), anxiety that the horses will be sold to slaughter in Canada or Mexico, and fear that the animals will still be in harm's way.

Though the problem is overwhelming, herd management has to start somewhere and must include both contraception and removal, though it's illegal to kill a wild horse unless it is severely ill. In addition to promoting better equine welfare, reducing the population is critical to reclaiming landscapes that are damaged from overgrazing. 

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Part of the BLM budget goes to contraceptives that are administered to mares via dart gun, but the majority of BLM funds are spent caring for horses that have been rounded up and removed from the range. Authorities estimate that it costs $50,000 to care for a horse in a holding facility for 25 years, which is the average equine lifespan.

After 144 horses in a Cañon City holding facility died after contracting equine influenza, the focus on more contraception and fewer roundups has intensified. The injectable vaccine contraceptive that has been used has good efficacy; with a booster administered two years after the first dose, a mare can be infertile for more than four years. It has proven to be a safe and reversible method of birth control.

Many people believe that fertility control measures cannot be the only solution; they continue to search for ways to reduce wild horse numbers that will be accepted by the public, authorities and animal rights enthusiasts. 

Read more at The PEW Charitable Trust. 

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