The U.S. Army plans to remove hundreds of wild horses from Ft. Polk in Louisiana. The following is a op-ed piece by Amy Hanchey of the Pegasus Equine Guardian Association.
The title of the most-recent article, “Making Sense of Fort Polk Horses Plan” implies that the plan makes sense.
While it is true that there are abandoned horses at Ft. Polk, there are also in reality herds of Wild Horses on the Fort Polk / Kisatchie lands, regardless of the label “trespass horses” that Ft. Polk placed upon all of the horses, not just the abandoned ones. Ft. Polk spokespersons always accentuate their claim that all of the horses are “trespass horses” by pointing to a court decision that happened about 15 years ago.However, the Wild Horse and Burro Act of 1971 was implemented for the purpose of preservation and protection of wild horses, Congress uses the term “unbranded and unclaimed” in reference to what distinguishes wild horses on the ranges where they existed prior to 1971. Unfortunately, an appeal from a humane organization to have the wild horses recognized as “wild” under the 1971 law resulted in an unfavorable decision by the court, in part because of misinformation from the government’s side and insufficient evidence to the contrary. However, today there is sufficient evidence based upon historical documentation, physical appearance, location, and behavior of the herds of wild horses.
There are in fact several unique herds of truly wild horses that are of value both environmentally and culturally, especially to the inhabitants of the area, but also to all Americans. They should be preserved and protected. Wild horses are wild horses by their nature, regardless of what label some want to put on them. The wild horses that survive today may be regarded as “feral” by some, however, the fact that horses were domesticated before they were reintroduced back to the North American continent matters little from a biological nor welfare standpoint. Regardless if the horses are abandoned, Generationally Wild or otherwise Wild, their welfare is at stake.
Pegasus would like to express the difference between herd management methods when discussing Wild Horses vs. Domesticated Horses. The domestic horse mentality uses the term “Sterilization” which implies gelding of stallions and/or ovariectomy of mares. These methods of sterilization have been shown to be detrimental to the health and nature of these horses, and are never recommended as solutions for Wild Horses. So what can be done?
Fertility Control is an option that can be successful, if administered responsibly, using methods and practices that are consistent with its recommended use to perpetuate healthy herds with genetic viability and diversity.
There is a significant likelihood that horses being removed run the risk of being sent to slaughter. We have received several statements that both federal and state officials have actually reached out to known Kill Buyers offering to make deals for removal. This lack of serious concern will surely result in the horses going to slaughter.
Slaughter is what happens to the majority of “unwanted” horses in this country as shown by the Animal Welfare Institute, 2015 Horse Slaughter Statistics, approx. 125,000 American horses were sent to a brutal, inhumane, terrorizing death last year. The term, Kill Buyer, is a commonly used term to describe those who profit from buying and selling horses for slaughter and these individuals are fixtures at horse sales (commonly referred to as Auctions, Sale Barns or Feed Lots).
“The journey to this cruel death is preceded by horrendous handling and transport methods. This process often includes the horses being shipped from auction to auction, in scorching heat or freezing blizzards and are deprived of food, water and rest. They are not separated by gender, age, size, or degree of aggressiveness. These trailers, designed with lower ceilings for cattle, prevent the horses from holding their heads upright during transport, which often causes them severe head, neck and limb injuries. During transport and at the slaughterhouse, eyes are often poked out on unruly horses. In some Mexican regional plants, horses are not rendered unconscious during the killing process but are merely immobilized by being stabbed repeatedly with a sort of dagger called a “puntilla” in the back of the neck to break the spinal cord. The excruciatingly painful, horribly bloody stabbing neither kills nor renders unconscious; it merely incapacitates the horses, making them the equivalent of tetraplegic, before they are hoisted, whereupon their throats are slit and their bodies are dismembered. During the entire process, the horses in Mexico are fully aware. [The foregoing paragraph is from an article by Jerry Finch, Habitat for Horses.] Since we know that the horse market is already flooded with healthy horses, we can assert that the minute the horses enter the horse market their risk for ending up in auctions and eventually slaughterhouses increases substantially.”
– Jerry Finch, Habitat for Horses
While we applaud attempts by organizations to assist, we have serious concerns. It is difficult to believe that the Humane Society of North Texas, an organization that says they would take all of the horses, could have placed, with success, 100 horses per month so far this year, as the article indicates. In comparison, many of the BLM placed horses ended-up at slaughter, and the BLM has taken serious precautions to prevent it (e.g., freeze branding horses in a conspicuous and unalterable way). The BLM has approximately 55,000 horses and 11,000 burros that they have been taking from public lands and have been keeping (for years) in holding facilities awaiting adoption.
“In light of the thousands of wild horses and burros that the federal government wants to remove from the range in Nevada and elsewhere, it would be irresponsible for the Department of Defense to move forward without a long-term, humane management plan for the Ft. Polk horses. We respectfully urge the Army to partner with local organizations to create and implement a humane management plan, using safe, proven fertility control, to reduce the number of horses over time.”
– Neda DeMayo, president, Return to Freedom
The article concluded with a paragraph that implied everything will be “OK” because animal advocates will be looking out for the horses. This is very misleading. Ft. Polk has already said they will be doing nothing with regard to following-up on the horses that leave Ft. Polk. The end result is that the horses will be in jeopardy as a result of the Ft. Polk “plan”.
Pegasus would like to see a partnership between governing organizations, wild horse preservation groups, advocates and citizens. It is believed many of the Military’s safety concerns could be addressed as well as acting in the best interest of the horses and enhancing public relations. We feel the Army’s plan falls short. Here are some examples of what horse welfare advocates would like to see; a horse registry, low-stress handling, and non-permanent fertility control while maintaining the uniqueness of the Wild Horse herds. Also their plan has no mention of what governing authorities will do about the in ability to enforce basic animal abandonment laws, which is a problem that will only continue unless addressed. It is important to realize that partnerships like this do exist and are successful; for example North Dakota Badlands Horses in Theodore Roosevelt National Park is an excellent example for Louisiana to follow. Please check them out at NDBH.
So If you feel the same sense of concern as we do, you should make those concerns known to Fort Polk as well as Local and Federal Government Officials. Pegasus hopes to encourage citizens to find ways to preserve the wild horses, and take a sensible & low-stress approach to managing the unique horse herds in Kisatchie and Fort Polk.