24 days, 23 deaths, the Hidden Impacts of the BLM’s Off Range Holding

On November 16, 2023, the American Wild Horse Campaign’s investigations team filed a Freedom of Information Act Request for all emails and email attachments sent from the Winnemucca Off-Range Corral (ORC) contractor to their BLM Contracting Officer Representative (COR) that discuss or describe deaths of horses. The timeframe of this request was for Fiscal Year 2023 and covered from October 31, 2022, to October 31, 2023. 


This week, AWHC received the records back. They showed that in the span of one fiscal year, 58 wild horses died. Shockingly, 23 horses died or were euthanized between April 13th and May 7th, 2023, a mere 24-day window. The manner of death for these 23 deaths is listed as neurologic and the notes state that the clinic signs point to botulism. Of the deaths, 14 died unexpectedly and nine were euthanized.


According to the University of California, Davis, botulism is a deadly neurological disease that causes muscle weakness, tremors, drooling, and reduced tongue strength. It also causes progressive paralysis, which makes it difficult for the horse to breathe or swallow. Botulism death can occur from respiratory paralysis and heart failure. 


There are several types of botulism, but types B and C are most common in equine populations. Type B is primarily of concern in Kentucky and other mid-Atlantic states. Type C botulism can be connected to contaminated forage or can affect horses who are consuming hay that is spilled on the ground and mixed with soil and feces. These spores are found in the environment, including in the soil, where they can exist for many years, raising concerns about the facility and its ability to safely house the number of horses it is supposed to. 


The newly implemented 100-acre feedlot plans to house 4,000 wild horses and burros in 40 pens. This provides just 750 square feet of space per animal. As of November 2023, the population of the facility was only 958 horses, less than  1 ⁄ 4 of its planned capacity. With the BLM’s FY24 roundup goals, more and more horses will be funneled into this holding facility, raising concerns about the welfare of any captured animals. 


AWHC is continuing to investigate this tragic and preventable incident and will share more info as we uncover it.