by Fran Jurga | 30 January 2010 | The Jurga Report at Equisearch.com
One of the Calico mustangs in a holding pen. BLM web site photo.
Just when I thought it was time to update blog readers on the Calico roundup being conducted by the Bureau of Land Management in Nevada, ABC News's Good Morning America provides a nice little video capsule from today's show. The Department of Interior's agency responsible for the wild horses running on public lands in the US west has been conducting a major clearance of horses from an area near Gerlach, Nevada for the past month.
All the protests of celebrities, billionaires, activists and letter-writers haven't drowned out the whapping of the roundup contractors' helicopters, although the cause is finding plenty of air time, bandwidth and ink in the media. Perhaps the horse roundups are a nice rotation between Haiti, the Afghan/Iraqi wars and Washington politics. But they are still covered as a curiosity, with little depth. The roundups go on. And on.
No matter which side of the very high mustang-proof fence you're on, you were probably shocked, as I was, to learn this morning that still more horses have died either during the gather or at the holding facility, bringing the total deaths to 23, according to most reports. An Associated Press story has different numbers; they give the death toll as 26 in today's Seattle Times, with 25 horses under veterinary care for injuries or health problems.
A report in today's New York Times does the math: The death toll stands at 1.7 percent, meaning that for every 1000 horses gathered, 17 have died. The normal death toll for the BLM during roundups is .5 percent. That's quite a difference: more than three times as many horses have died during this roundup than would normally die during a BLM roundup. According to the BLM's web site this morning, another horse has died as well.
To be clear, the BLM is closely observing the horses and separating out horses that appear to be in danger. Some of the horses died while others were euthanized on humane grounds by the BLM.
The BLM keeps a daily log about the mortality and general health statistics of the gather. When a horse dies, there is usually a vet report or a paraphrasing of an necropsy, if not an actual vet's report. Many of the deaths are attributed to poor condition, especially of pregnant mares with foals at their sides.
The BLM also reported that there have been 20 "miscarriages" (their word) in the 659 mares being held from this gather. In equine medicine, abortion is the term used to define the expulsion of a fetus before 300 days of pregnancy. The BLM attributed the abortions to the poor condition of the mares, not to the stress of the roundup. There is no mention that any post-mortem examination of the fetuses was conducted.
Dr. Al Kane of the BLM has a necropsy report online of a foal who died during the gather. He found the foal to have died from a congenital heart disorder; it had been observed falling down during the drive and the BLM veterinarian went back to find its body and conduct the investigation into its death. This is very sad, and probably the kind of detail that you don't hear about BLM staff following up on, although they do.
Equally compelling, or even moreso, is the report from Dr Richard Sanford of a nine-month-old foal euthanized at the holding facility after sloughing its hind hooves. This death was directly attributed to the stress of the gather. Once again, BLM veterinarians tried to medicate the foal, separated it from the herd, and kept it under observation.
Filmmaker Ginger Kathrens of The Cloud Foundation has written an essay imagining the final days and death of the foal with sloughed feet.
The BLM does have a policy about how euthanasia is conducted. According to their documents, at the holding facility a horse is euthanized by AVMA protocol, using an injection. During the gather drives, an emergency euthanasia is conducted by gunshot.
Today is a public observation day at the BLM's wild horse holding facilities in Nevada.
You can follow the BLM's version of what is going on in Nevada at their Winnemuca station web site.
National Geographic had a very good and balanced background article about wild horses in the American west in the February 2009 issue, which you can read online. PBS has also made available the Cloud series of documentaries from its Nature series for free online viewing.
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