This summer, the House Appropriations Committee voted for the first time to authorize killing healthy wild horses and burros. It did so with the full support of Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke, whose department bears the responsibility for managing wild horses on public lands.
We are appalled.
On one level, the vote to allow wild-horse killing is easy to understand. The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) scheme for managing protected wild horses and burros has never worked well, and has collapsed completely in the last 15 years.
Rounding up wild horses with helicopters and removing most of them for adoption is a strategy whose success depends on the whims of the horse adoption market, and works against wild horse reproductive biology. Adoptions have not kept up with removals, and removals have not kept up with natural growth of wild horse populations on the range.
Today, 46,000 formerly free-roaming wild horses are warehoused in holding facilities, costing taxpayers $60 million a year and counting. At the same time, according to the BLM, the number of horses and burros on the range has more than doubled since 2005-2008.
Something must be done to break out of this costly cycle of futility. Hence, the committee vote. Still, on another level, the committee’s action is bafflingly disingenuous and shortsighted. As a former congressman and governor from the West and a scientist and advocate who share more than a quarter century of engagement with the wild horse issue, we do not believe there is any chance that the public will allow killing of healthy wild horses on this scale. Historically, public outrage has routinely blocked far lesser abuses.
But if other issues conspire to divert public attention from horse-killing, the 20 percent annual growth rate shown by wild horse populations on public lands would refill BLM’s holding facilities to current levels in a mere three years. The killing strategy is no more sustainable than the roundup and adopt strategy.
The wild horse challenge cannot be solved unless wild horse reproduction is managed on the range. Less than a mile from where the House Appropriations Committee debated killing wild horses, experts from all over the world participated in the eighth International Conference in Wildlife Fertility Control. There, researchers from Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine at Tufts University, The Humane Society of the United States and the University of Toledo presented data from field trials showing that two doses of a contraceptive vaccine (known as PZP) delivered several years apart can block wild horse pregnancies for five years or longer. The vaccine costs a few hundred dollars for the first dose, but only $25 for the second.
Another research group from Colorado State University, the National Park Service and USDA’s National Wildlife Research Center showed remarkably similar data from wild horse field trials with a different contraceptive vaccine (known as GonaCon). These vaccines, and the data describing their safety and effectiveness, are both well known to the BLM, which has been funding such research for decades. Side effects are minimal, mostly consisting of short-term reactions at the injection site experienced by some horses.
Researchers can still improve these vaccines, and are eager to do that. But it is the job of the BLM to inject these vaccines into enough horses to slow down population growth. Working with the BLM at Cedar Mountains Herd Management Area in Utah, the Tufts/HSUS/Toledo research team showed that it can be done. Enough mares were treated with PZP at a 2012 BLM gather to reduce annual population growth to about 8.5 percent over the two years following — a third of the normal growth rate at that site.
Cedar Mountains is a tough place to work, covering 280 rugged square miles, nearly 60 percent of which is wilderness off-limits to vehicles. If BLM can do it there, they can do it nearly everywhere.
To reduce the number of gathers and the flow of animals into holding, improve the health of the range long-term and find its way out of its perpetual wild horse crisis, the BLM must develop and put into practice locally tailored long-term plans to manage wild horses and burros with fertility control.
Instead of funding horse killing, Congress should insist that management by fertility control gets done, and provide the BLM with the cash to do it.
Bill Richardson has served as a U.S. congressman (1982-1996), U. S. ambassador to the United Nations (1997-1998), secretary of Energy (1998-2000) and governor of New Mexico (2003-2011). With actor and conservationist Robert Redford, he started the Foundation to Preserve New Mexico Wildlife to protect wild horses and provide alternatives to horse slaughter.
Allen Rutberg is director of the Center for Animals and Public Policy at Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine at Tufts University and a long-time wild horse contraception researcher.
Source: The Hill
A synopsis of a presentation to veterinarians during The American Mustang session at the 2014 American Association of Equine Practitioners Convention, held Dec. 6-10 in Salt Lake City, Utah.
Feral tribal horses walk the streets within the Navajo Nation. They’re outside restaurants. In people’s yards. There are just too many horses, and the Navajo government is working to change that. It started in 2013 with community roundups and a veterinary management program.
Scott Bender, DVM, works as tribal veterinarian with the Navajo Nation Veterinary Program and is a USDA Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service consulting veterinarian. At the 2014 American Association of Equine Practitioners Convention, held Dec. 6-10 in Salt Lake City, Utah, Bender shared the challenges faced when managing feral horses within the Navajo Nation and results of tribal equine population management efforts.
The Navajo Nation is located in the southwestern United States, with territory spanning Arizona, Utah, and New Mexico. The reservation comprises 18 million acres and, said Bender, an estimated 75,000 to 96,000 horses.
The tribe permits 12,000 livestock owners, with the majority of permit holders having one to five privately owned horses.
Under tribal law, all unbranded horses within the Navajo Nation are tribal property, Bender explained. That leaves the tribe with a lot of horses.
The Navajo traditionally view horses as sport, working, and food animals. “The horse is sacred to the Navajo, but that doesn't mean we don't eat them," Bender explained. The Navajo believe horsemeat has medicinal, healing properties and is useful as a “winter” meat, he said, explaining that “horsemeat, by tradition, can only be eaten in the winter between October and April—end of thunder and not after ‘first thunder.’”
Initially and into the early 20th Century, the U.S. Bureau of Indian Affairs managed tribal livestock, but management has slowly transitioned to the sovereign nation government, Bender said. This happened partly because of U.S. government-approved reduction of livestock in the 1930s and the euthanasia and burial of more than 500 horses by federal authorizes following a dourine outbreak at the Canyon de Chelly National Monument, which is located in northeastern Arizona within the Navajo Nation boundaries. “This ‘waste of resources’ has left a negative indelible mark on the attitude of Navajo livestock owners toward the U.S. government,” Bender said.
To the Navajo, unused horsemeat is a wasted resource that the creator gave the people, he clarified.
With this in mind, surplus Navajo horses had historically been sold off-reservation to slaughter as a way to manage populations and produce income. When U.S. equine slaughter plants closed in 2007, the tribal horses lost 95% of their value and the surplus feral horses were left to breed without human controls, Bender said. “The current (tribal) horse issue is a direct result of the elimination of an outlet for surplus horses,” he added.
As herds grew, damage to rangelands increased, as did horse-caused human injuries. “Horses in right-of-ways caused car wrecks, human injuries, and even deaths,” Bender said. These issues led tribal communities to request that the Navajo National Department of Agriculture start its equine population management program in 2013, which involved roundups and veterinary services, including free:
While the initial fertility vaccination was effective, Bender described owner booster rates of horses as “dismal,” despite the program’s outreach and communications efforts promoting boosters. The program’s leadership is now investigating anti-gonadotropin-releasing hormone vaccine (know more commonly as anti-GnRH or GonaCon) use as a longer-activing and single-dose alternative to PZP.
In 2013 the Navajo Nation local communities, with the help of the Navajo Nation Departments of Agriculture and Resource Enforcement, rounded up more than 8,900 horses. Permitted owners claimed approximately 250 horses, with the tribe selling the rest with the requirement that they could not be returned to the Navajo Nation.
The veterinary program’s goal was to castrate 1,000 male horses and vaccinate 1,500 mares against fertility by the end of 2014. To date, more than 700 horses have been castrated or vaccinated with PZP for fertility control. Bender said members of communities where horse removals took place have reported improved forage conditions in spite of the continuing 14 years of drought in the southwestern United States and Navajo Nation.
Source: The Horse
The National Park Service (NPS) is currently studying the use of fertility control vaccines to control feral horse populations on NPS lands.
Jenny Powers, DVM, PhD, an NPS wildlife veterinarian, shared preliminary results during a presentation at the 2014 American Association of Equine Practitioners Convention, held Dec. 6-10 in Salt Lake City, Utah.
Managers at Theodore Roosevelt National Park in North Dakota are seeking ways to control feral horse populations that include alternatives to helicopter roundups and sales.
The horses, which some consider culturally significant and suggest are the origin of the Nokota breed, share the same range as elk, pronghorn, mule and white-tail deer, and bison in the 46,000-acre park, necessitating careful resource allocation and equine population management, Powers said.
In October 2009 NPS started a study using a gonadotropin-releasing hormone (GnRH) immunocontraceptive vaccine on mares in the park. First, park managers rounded up and removed half the park’s horses. They then blocked the remaining mature mares by age, body condition, and reproductive status. They separated the horses into a treatment group of 29 and a nontreatment group of 28 individual mares.
The treatment group received 2 mL of GnRH vaccine. The control group received 2 mL of saline. Most mares were pregnant at the time of treatment. “The GnRH vaccine we used showed promise as a multiyear vaccine after giving a single dose," Powers said. "This is highly unusual for a vaccine to work for more than a year and would greatly improve the efficiency over currently available fertility control vaccines.”
Over the next four years, NPS researchers observed the mares for:
In the first foaling season, 2010, researchers saw no statistical change in foaling or foal survival rates, as was expected because most animals were pregnant at the time of vaccination, and there was no difference in foal survival between treated and control mares, Powers said.
In the second foaling season (the first expected to be affected by vaccination), the proportion of treated mares that foaled was 35% less than untreated mares. The third foaling season saw the proportion of treated mares that foaled 30% less than untreated mares. But the fourth foaling season, researchers observed no statistical difference in foaling rates between treated and untreated mares.
NPS managers observed minimal changes to reproductive behaviors or time budgets, Powers said. Of the treated mares, 80% had injection site swelling one to four years after treatment.
Overall, NPS researchers found a single vaccination with the GnRH vaccine provided a modest decrease foaling rates for two years post-vaccination and had little effect on social behaviors, she said, adding that treated mares had no more or less reproductive interaction with stallions than untreated mares.
She also said treated mares did have apparent inflammatory reactions at injection site, but this did not appear to affect their well-being, as they did not become lame or lose body condition.
“The NPS is currently studying the efficacy of revaccination four years after the first vaccination, and researchers are interested in how long a booster vaccine might last and how effective it can be at preventing pregnancy,” Powers concluded.
Source: The Horse
Click Here to view white paper, presented at the AAEP conference
Dan Baker is not like an expectant dad waiting to find out if it’s a boy or a girl. He’s the opposite, hoping to hear that all the pregnancy tests come back negative. Baker, a research biologist at Colorado State University’s animal reproduction and biotechnology laboratory, is the man in charge of an experimental contraception program in the wild horse herd at Theodore Roosevelt National Park. There is hope that Baker’s work is productive — not reproductive.
Waiting for results
Within a month, he’ll know if he’s onto something that will have implications far beyond this singular herd in this one park — or if he’s back to square one.
The samples are in, and tests will be run soon. He hesitates to even guess at the results. “It’s totally unknown. It could be anything between no effects all the way to permanent sterilization. This question has never been answered,” Baker said.
If his experiment works, it could be a new way to control the park’s constantly expanding wild horse herd and possibly the thousands of wild horses on Bureau of Land Management land. The method also could have uses in the control of unmanaged wild dog populations in Third World countries, or simply to suppress fertility in domestic horses, dogs and cats.
Baker’s work in what he calls a perfect — not to mention beautiful — outdoors laboratory dates back to 2009. “It’s such a great natural lab out there. The area the horses are confined in is large, but not too large. It’s great landscape, and we can find them most of the time,” he said.
In 2009, during the park’s scheduled wild horse roundup and herd reduction, Baker vaccinated 28 wild horses with GonaCon, a vaccine that has been used to suppress pregnancy in captive animals, not free-roaming wild ones such as those in the park. The results were poor. Half the vaccinated mares became pregnant and, within three years, they all did. What they’ve since learned is that, even though the park’s wild horses are in excellent physical condition, with good forage, they carry a big parasite load, which may have prevented the kind of antibody response needed to suppress pregnancy.
“Real world horses get injured, or have fence cuts, and their immune systems go toward those things rather than suppressing the hormones that control reproduction,” Baker said.
Last year, the park conducted another wild horse roundup and that’s when Baker’s research took a step further. The same 28 mares were revaccinated to learn whether a second booster of the same drug would achieve a higher antibody response and improve contraception.
Last month, volunteers collected fecal samples dropped on park ground by as many of the 28 vaccinated mares as could be located.
By measuring the feces for estradiol, a hormone excreted by a fetus, Baker’s lab team will soon know if the revaccination was successful.
“As the fetus matures, the concentration of estradiol gets higher and higher. If it’s 10 (nanograms per gram), they’re not pregnant. If it’s 100, they are. In a couple of weeks, after we’ve looked, if everything’s really high, the study’s over,” Baker said.
The proof will be in the lab, but the mares will also be observed in the spring to verify the actual foaling rate.
Park waiting, too
Blake McCann is the park’s wildlife biologist, a man who prizes science and wildlife equally. McCann’s hopeful the revaccination works, too, but for reasons that have more to do with the horses, than the science itself. He’d like to see the park bring to an end the longstanding practice of controlling the wild horse population with controversial helicopter-driven roundups and transport to public livestock sales barns. Instead, if the revaccination controls pregnancy by even 50 percent, McCann said becomes more feasible to also lure the wild horses into a makeshift corral in their own environment and remove small select numbers for sale right there.
That practice would be much less traumatic all around for humans and horses, he said. He plans to conduct a corral trap this year to start learning how and to manage the 142 wild horses currently in the park, a number well above the 40 to 90 population considered ideal.
Some doses of the second vaccine were delivered by dart, which was acceptable for the experiment. “For research, yes, but to use that as a management tool, we would have to go into an environmental impact statement. Darting animals is not part of our management plan,” McCann said.
Whether through contraception or smaller removals from the temporary corrals, McCann said he does not want to see wild horse numbers return to the all-time high of 200 that were there last year when 103 were culled and sold at Wishek Livestock. “I don’t want to get to 200 again and do another helicopter roundup. With the corral trapping, we can remove a dozen or so every year and get the young mares out before they become reproductively active,” he said.
That said, McCann said he’s hoping Baker’s work is productive, not reproductive, as it were. “I would like to see the vaccine be a viable tool. We always have to be adaptable as a situation unfolds. I’m hopeful it’s effective,” he said.
Source: Bismarck Tribune by Lauren Donovan