The American Wild Horse, also known as “Mustangs” descended from Spanish horses and were brought to North America in the 16th century by Spanish explorers. Their name in Spanish, mustengo, means “stray horse.”
In November of 2015, the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) completed a roundup of roughly 1,400 wild horses in the state of Oregon, in Beaty’s Butte, historically known as the area of the Kiger mustangs.
According to a Pacific Standard report, there were five deaths on November 19, including “one 8 year old mare with old break in right hind leg and one 4 month old colt with old break in left hind leg.” Two days later, 16 horses were dead. According to another report published in the same article, “The most heartbreaking [scene] of the day involved the foals. The helicopters are running these horses from very long distances, and often foals just can’t keep up for as long as the rest of their herd.”
Once 2 million wild horses roamed across the United States during the in the 19th century. By the time the wild horse received federal protection in 1971, it was officially estimated that only about 17,000 of them roamed America’s plains. More than 1 million had been conscripted for World War I combat; the rest had been hunted for their flesh, for the chicken feed and dog food companies, and for the sport of it.”
In response to public outrage over the horses’ annihilation, the 1971 Wild Free-Roaming Horse & Burro Act was passed, protecting wild horses from capture and death. The BLM and the U.S. Forest Service were responsible for implementing the act and ensuring protections were in place for the wild horses while they also issued grazing permits to cattle ranchers on public land.
While they were once considered iconic and majestic, wild horses are now deemed nothing more than a nuisance by ranchers who use federal land for subsidized grazing. And we’ve let them down. Big time.
When the BLM deems wild horse numbers to be in excess of manageable levels, today there are roundups where helicopters along with men on horseback chase down fearful and frantic herds. These frightened animals are often wounded in the process, many are trampled by their fellow horses and many die. Numerous captured horses are sent to long-term holding pens. Some even end up being adopted. Others end up at slaughter. Although the BLM states firmly that they do not send horses to slaughter, among other claims, others say the horses they “manage” meet grim fates. A recent investigative report by the Office of Inspector General found unsettling information about the BLM selling horses to a Colorado rancher who in turn sent those horses to Mexico for slaughter.
These violent culls happen all too often. Many cattleman seem to consider wild horses a nuisance. Many cattleman and ranchers who are opposed to wild horses say they are destroying the habitat and reproduce too quickly. The almighty dollar is the root of the problem, with the beef industry at the center of it. The Department of Interior’s ‘multiple-use’ principles, allow only so much cattle, wildlife, and wild horses on federal lands. The cattleman and United states government see that each horse removed frees up space cattle or sheep.
Unfortunately there is nothing illegal with these culling’s. I believe it is immoral, but in the eyes of federal “law” it is not illegal. It is legal to buy horses in the United States and transport across country to sell for slaughter in Canada and Mexico.
Wildlife Conservation Film Festival
Christopher J. Gervais, F.R.G.S.
Founder & CEO
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