Wild horses are federally protected and cannot be sold in slaughter auctions. Feral domestic horses are not covered by the same laws. The two groups can look identical.
Animal advocates and Congress want the Bureau of Land Management to explain the criteria they use to determine which horse gets to live and which horse will die.
BLM’s policy came under fire after 172 mustangs from the 2010 Nevada roundups were sent to a slaughter auction in July. The auction was attended by buyers from slaughterhouses in Canada and Mexico. Animal advocates say the horses are federally protected mustangs.
The horses at the auction were spared thanks to the efforts of Lifesavers Wild Horse Rescue. The group and a few private citizens bought the horses.
Now 57 members of Congress and wild horse advocates have asked for an investigation into BLM’s policies.
They have asked the National Academy of Sciences National Research Council to look into the matter. And they want BLM to stop the roundups until the scientists have made a determination.
Jill Starr, president of Livesavers Wild Horse Rescue said this about the horses she rescued in July. “It doesn’t take a biologist to know that these are not ranch horses gone wild.”
Starr believes the horses her group rescued are descendants of protected wild mustangs or are from a very old herd of wild horses.
She said in an interview with the Reno Gazette-Journal, “These were very typical mustangs. They have that red dun coloring you expect from wild horses. There were no pintos, no Appaloosas. I’ve never seen a herd that was so clearly wild. Everything about them suggests they were isolated, a very old herd and not ranch horses or their offspring.”
Starr would like BLM to run DNA tests on these animals to determine their heritage and protection.
BLM on the other hand said the area where the 172 animals were captured had been depleted of protected mustangs in 1993, when the horses were removed in a roundup.
Roundups, grazing patterns and physical looks seem to be the methods used by BLM to determine which horses are protected and which are “estrays” or domestic horses that have become wild.
Bryan Fuell, field manager of BLM’s Elko District Office said, “The BLM makes the majority of the decisions on estrays based on physical appearance and or brands on the animals as well as history of unauthorized horse activity in the area.”
Wild horse advocates complain these criteria are not “scientifically based.” They call the policies “subjective.”
Vicki Tobin of the Equine Welfare Alliance said this type of policy allows BLM to “decide at random that they no longer want to manage a herd.”
Even BLM admits to making mistakes in the past. In 2009 officials gave the wrong designation for a group of horses rounded up.
BLM has agreed for the National Research Council to review its National Wild Horse and Burro Program beginning January 1, 2011, but the study will come too late for the herd rounded up this year.
And to make matters worse for the plight of feral unprotected horses, a group of 175 that were captured by private land owners will be sold at an auction on September 18 in Fallon, Nevada. Their poster reads, “Geldings – Studs – Mares – Mares and Foals.” Lifesavers Wild Horse Rescue says the auction will be full of buyers from slaughterhouses.
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