The latest attempt to control wild horse populations in the United States has come under fire from wild horse advocates and members of the US Senate and House of Representatives. The current scandal revolves around the plan by the United States Bureau of Land Management (BLM) to round up horses from western Utah and surgically sterilize the mares before returning them to the wild.

According to news reports the procedure has not been “performed before on wild horses under the purview of the Bureau of Land Management, was done on mares occupying a national wildlife refuge in Nevada with success, federal officials say.”

This move has been condemned by advocates as “unwarranted and cruel”, including by the American Wild Horse Campaign, whose communications director, Grace Kuhn, said in a statement last week. “It is not a population management tool. It is pretty barbaric.”

Also last week, another group known as Return to Freedom Wild Horse Conservation filed a federal lawsuit in California to stop the BLM from their sterilization plan.

For its part, the BLM claims that “the 551 wild horses that were in this region of state are 479% above the target population of between 70 and 115 horses, and the last gather with this particular herd happened more than a decade ago.” According the BLM’s own report, a roundup in November resulted in 304 captured animals and five deaths.”

The BLM also points out that the overpopulation creates issues for the horse’s health and that of other wild animals and ranches who are all competing for the same foraging.

Still, spaying a mare isn’t common practice or considered the gold standard of animal management anywhere in the world. According to the American Wild Horse Campaign, “The procedure uses a rod and chain-like device to manually (and blindly) sever and remove the ovaries of conscious wild mares, with proper aftercare and pain relief impossible to deliver to wild, untamed horses. Wild horse advocates are concerned not only for the welfare of the animals subjected to the procedure but also the impact of removing the ovaries of wild mares on their natural behaviors.”

Back in November, a bipartisan letter spearheaded by Senator Cory Booker and signed by 58 members of Congress was sent to Interior Secretary David Bernhardt calling on the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) to drop the sterilization plan of its federally protected wild horses in Utah.

A portion of the letter reads: That the agency would attempt to expend taxpayer dollars to push through highly controversial and unsafe surgeries that could result in injuries and infections to, or even the death of, horses under its authority may ultimately contravene its mandate under the law.

Instead, advocates and these members of Congress are pressing for the BLM to use the vaccine PZP, a more humane alternative to manage wild horses and burros that is both cost-effective and backed with 30 years of research.
According to a statement on the American Wild Horse Campaign site, “In July, the U.S. House passed a wild horse protection amendment to the FY21 Interior Appropriations bill, directing the BLM to use at least $11M of its annual operating budget for its Wild Horse and Burro Program on the humane and proven safe fertility control vaccine, PZP. The amendment is consistent with scientific recommendations and previous guidance from Congress urging the BLM to increase the use of PZP fertility control as a step toward moving away from the current inhumane and unsustainable roundup program.”

We will continue to follow this story and provide updates.