Nearly 80 veterinarians from across the United States delivered a letter to Interior Secretary David Bernhardt today condemning the Bureau of Land Management’s proposed surgical sterilization experiments on wild horses from the Warm Springs Herd Management Area in Oregon.
The letter was sent in advance of the BLM’s National Wild Horse and Burro Advisory Board meeting, which starts October 29 in Washington, DC. Members of the board, which advises the BLM on a wide range of wild horse management strategies, are expected to consider the issue of surgical sterilizations as a fertility control option for curbing populations on the range.
The BLM’s proposal entails using an outdated procedure known as “ovariectomy via colpotomy,” where a metal rod-like tool is blindly inserted through a vaginal incision in order to sever and remove the ovaries of wild mares while they remain conscious. Under the BLM’s plan, as many as 25 ovariectomies would be performed each day.
The National Academy of Sciences, in its comprehensive 2013 report on wild horse management to the BLM, specifically advised the agency not to utilize the ovariectomy via colpotomy method given the risks of trauma and infection. The BLM’s proposal aims to quantify the rate of complications from the surgery, including death.
In their letter, the 78 veterinarians urge the BLM to abandon any future plans for the experimental use of the procedure on wild mares. “Not only is ovariectomy via colpotomy far more invasive, inhumane, and risky than other nonsurgical methods of fertility control,” the letter states, “it is also more invasive and inhumane than the techniques that veterinarians use on domestic horses in the rare circumstances where some form of ovariectomy is clinically necessary.”
The letter adds: “This procedure can be accompanied by a high rate of complications—including risks of infection, trauma, post-operative pain, hemorrhage, abdominal adhesions, evisceration, abscess formation, abortion, neuropathies, and even death. The associated risks are exacerbated by the fact that, by the agency’s own admission, the surgeries will be conducted at the agency’s corrals in an operating space that ‘may not be entirely sterile." CLICK HERE to read the entire letter.
The BLM’s proposal marks the agency’s fourth attempt since 2016 to undertake these controversial experiments. The AWI, the American Wild Horse Campaign, and The Cloud Foundation secured a preliminary injunction in the fall of 2018 blocking the agency from implementing the experiments after a federal court found serious shortcomings with a previous version of the the BLM’s proposal. However, in May, the BLM issued a new environmental assessment for an ovariectomy via colpotomy study in an attempt to push forward.
A recent AWI-commissioned survey of more than 2,000 adults through The Harris Poll found that an overwhelming 77% of Americans are opposed to the BLM conducting surgical sterilization experiments on wild horses. Federal lawmakers in both the House of Representatives and Senate have called on the agency to rethink this inhumane plan.
The National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine (NASEM) announced the appointment of the committee for the new study, A Review of Methods for Detecting Soreness in Horses. The study is a collaboration between the NASEM's Board on Agriculture and Natural Resources (BANR) and the Institute for Laboratory Animal Research (ILAR). Funding for the study has been provided by the U.S. Department of Agriculture Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) and the Tennessee Walking Horse Industry.
About the Study:
The National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine (NASEM) will convene an ad hoc committee of equine veterinarians and experts with relevant experience and appropriate professional certifications or academic degrees to review the scientific and veterinary medical literature on hoof and pastern pain and skin/tissue changes on the pastern of horses, and evaluate methods used to identify soreness in horses (as defined in the Horse Protection Act* and the implementing regulations) for their scientific validity and reliability. In the course of its study, the committee will:
In a consensus report, the committee will describe its conclusions about the validity and reliability of methods, and provide recommendations to improve the efficacy and consistency of approaches to identifying soreness. The report will also review the Horse Protection Act regulations, including the "scar rule" found at 9. C.F.R. 11.3 and identify changes that would be necessary to implement the findings of the study.
*Sore when used to describe a horse means:
Jerry Black, DVM, is an associate professor at the Department of Animal Sciences, College of Agriculture Sciences and the Department of Clinical Sciences, College of Veterinary Medicine and Biological Sciences, Colorado State University (CSU) in Fort Collins.
Robin Foster, PhD is a certified horse behavior consultant with the International Association of Animal Behavior Consultants (IAABC), a board Certified Applied Animal Behaviorist (CAAB) with the Animal Behavior Society, and a Fear Free Certified Professional. She holds a PhD in animal behavior from the University of Washington, and a dual BS in biology and psychology from the University of Michigan.
Pamela Eve Ginn, DVM, Dipl. ACVP, is an associate professor and senior pathologist at the Department of Comparative Diagnostic and Population Medicine, University of Florida (UF) College of Veterinary Medicine in Gainesville.
Sarah le Jeune, DVM, DACVS, DACVSMR, CVA, Cert. Vet. Chiro, is a member of the American College of Veterinary Sports Medicine and Rehabilitation and focuses on the diagnosis and treatment of lameness and various performance-related musculoskeletal injuries by an integrative approach including acupuncture and chiropractic. She is the chief of the Equine Integrative Sports Medicine Service at University of California, Davis.
Bart Sutherland, DVM is currently a private practice large animal veterinarian in Oxford, Mississippi. In previous years, he has also worked for the USEF/AQHA (US Equestrian Federation/American Quarter Horse Association) Drug and Medication Program (2002-2015); Veterinary Medicine Officer (VMO) with USDA (2010-2018); and a VMO with the USDA Horse Protection Program and Animal Care (2010-2017; Interim Director for USDA Horse Protection Program, 2016).
Tracy Turner, DVM, DACVS, DACVSMR, American Academy of Thermology Fellow, is the president and owner of Turner Equine Sports Medicine and Surgery in Stillwater, Minnesota (2016 - present). Dr. Turner has over 40 years experience as an equine veterinarian and as a farrier.
Over 100 humane organizations dedicated to protecting and preserving our nation's wild horses and burros have united in support of a humane, sustainable management plan. This plan identifies alternatives to the approach of killing captive and free-roaming wild horses and burros. It includes:
Creating a ten-year plan to reduce and stabilize wild horse populations while maintaining current prohibitions against killing, destruction, and sale for slaughter.
Our Principles and Recommendations are consistent with the findings and recommendations from the National Academy of Sciences' 2013 report and other leading research organizations. We recognize there is not an 'easy fix' and our recommendations cannot be considered in isolation, but believe by bringing together nonprofit organizations, government officials and agencies, including the BLM, the USFS, and others, we can help implement a new way forward.
List of signatories:
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