BLM slows horse captures under Fund pressure

From ANIMAL PEOPLE, December 2001:

WASHINGTON D.C.–The Bureau of Land Manage-ment on December 19, 2001 agreed to suspend until May 2002 a plan to remove 40% more wild horses than the official “appropriate management level” from 11 sites on the western range.

The Fund for Animals and the Animal Legal Defense Fund in September 2001 jointly charged in a lawsuit against the BLM that, “The [removal] strategy violates the 1971 Wild and Free Ranging Horse and Burro Protection Act,” by allegedly failing to consider the environmental impact of the removals, and also allegedly failing to consider alternatives.

“In order to avoid an immediate court ruling on the part of the strategy whereby the BLM removes wild horses and burros to 40% below the official appropriate management level, the BLM agreed that it will not undertake such removals without first giving the plaintiffs significant advance notice, to ensure that the court can rule on the practice before it happens again,” said Fund for Animals vice president Mike Markarian.

BLM spokesperson Celia Boddington said that the 11 scheduled wild horse roundups would be held, but would capture only about 4,500 horses instead of the 7,500 originally targeted.

A final ruling on the Fund/ALDF case is due in early 2002, but not before January 20, when the captures are to begin. Altogether, the BLM wants to remove 21,000 of the estimated 48,000 wild horses left on federal rangeland in 10 western states. The temporary agreement came less than 10 days after Fund for Animals attorney Howard Crystal released to news media BLM reports documenting that at least 600 wild horses gathered in previous roundups since 1998 have been sold to slaughterhouses. The horses were adopted by private citizens, who by law were not allowed to
sell them until receiving legal title to them, issued one year after the adoption date.

“Forty wild horses adopted out by the BLM were sent to slaughter in the most recent six-month period covered by the records, four of them within four weeks of the owner receiving title,” summarized Robert Gehrke of Associated Press. “Two others were slaughtered within two months of being titled. However, the quick turnaround seems to be less frequent than it once was,” Gehrke wrote. “A BLM report covering March 1998 to September 1999 showed 186 horses were slaughtered within three months of being titled, a rate of nearly 10 per month.”

Responded Fund for Animals western office representative Andrea Lococo, via Deborah Frazier of the Denver Rocky Mountain News, “If you look at the legislative history, it is clear that Congress never intended for wild horses to be slaughtered.” Wild horses were once a mainstay of the U.S. horse slaughter industry, along with cast-off racehorses and saddle horses, while about half of the horses killed in Canada were foaled by the mares used to produced pregnant mare’s urine, the base material for the hormone supplement Premarin. As recently as 1990, U.S. slaughterhouses killed 315,000 horses, and Canadian slaughterhouses killed 235,000 more. France reportedly bought most of the meat, and Italy bought most of the hides.

The collapse of trade barriers between eastern Europe and the European Community in the early 1990s brought a glut of ex-workhorses into France and Italy at prices well below the cost of importing horsemeat and hides from North America, where the market collapsed. In 2000, U.S. slaughterhouses killed only 50,449 horses; Canadian slaughterhouses killed about 62,000.

Equine slaughter resurges

However, scares over mad cow disease and hoof-and-mouth disease scares sent demand soaring again in 2001. As the eastern European horse supply ran thin, killer-buyers began importing horses from South America. The average price paid for horses by U.S. killer-buyers rose 37% in three months, while in Canada killer-buyers paid 50% more. Botswana and Namibia began governmentally encouraging plans to slaughter donkeys for meat, and rumors flew in India about the alleged slaughter of donkeys for illegal export.

Although donkey meat would be rejected by many Europeans, it is often eaten in parts of Asia. North Korean dictator Kim Jong-Il in July and August 2001 shocked Russians by serving donkey meat mislabeled “heavenly cow” to local dignitaries who visited him at stops on an 11-day train visit to Moscow and back. Some reports claimed Kim Jong-Il brought live donkeys aboard the train to be sure of always having fresh meat.

In the U.S., it is unclear if higher prices are encouraging more adoptions of wild horses for speculation on resale to slaughter, or are just encouraging adoptors with problematic wild horses to sell them for slaughter while the selling is lucrative. Even at the present prices, giving a horse bought fodder for a year in anticipation of sale for horsemeat would not be profitable.

Alleged wild horse speculator Haven B. Hendricks was charged on December 7 with four counts of cruelty for allegedly leaving 24 horses to starve and suffer from exposure on land he owns in Cache County, Utah. Hendricks, a Utah State University associate professor of agriculture, reportedly told news media that he bought the two dozen horses at a BLM auction in southern Utah, and said, “They were really thin when I got them.” On December 16, Salt Lake City Deseret News staff writer Twila Van Leer reported that, “An internal review of the performance of USU associate professor Haven Hendricks has resulted in a recommendation that he be dismissed.”

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