Death Toll Mounts from BLM Wild Horse Roundup

Newly Obtained Records Reveal At Least 75 Mustangs Died in Holding Pens after Capture from Wyoming Checkerboad

Update as of August 2015: AT LEAST 86 horses have died in holding pens after being captured in the Checkerboard roundup. 

Rock Springs, Wyoming … (April 14, 2015) . . . Over 75 wild horses captured in Bureau of Land Management’s (BLM’s) Fall 2014 “Wyoming Checkerboard roundup” died in the days and months immediately following their capture, adding significantly to the official death toll from this capture operation conducted in the Adobe Town, Salt Wells Creek and Divide Basin Herd Management Areas (HMAs) in southwestern Wyoming.

Previously, the BLM had reported the deaths of 14 horses as a direct result of the helicopter roundup, but additional records obtained under the Freedom of Information Act (FIOA) by the American Wild Horse Preservation Campaign (AWHPC) show a significantly higher death toll.  "The BLM often touts a death rate of one percent for helicopter roundups, but  these records shed light on the very significant number of deaths that occur in the holding facilities in the days and months after the horses are rounded up,” said Suzanne Roy, Campaign Director of the AWHPC. "The leading cause of death is traumatic injury – primarily broken necks from terrified horses crashing into the bars of their holding pens in desperate escape attempts.”

 These records are further evidence of the trauma, terror and suffering that the BLM inflicts on America’s wild horses and burros with its roundup program,” Roy continued. “This cruel treatment is far beneath the standard Americans expect for the treatment of our national icons. Americans have a choice to make about whether we continue to waste tens of millions of taxpayer dollars to brutally round up and remove wild horses from their homes on the range, or to humanely manage them in the wild using the safe, effective and significantly less expensive PZP birth control vaccine to control population numbers.”

This widely opposed and controversial roundup resulted in the capture and removal of 1,263 wild horses between September 15 and October 9, 2014.

The records obtained under FOIA clearly show:

  • 22 horses died in the holding pens as a result of traumatic injury, including broken necks, spinal and pelvis injuries, fatal leg damage sustained during the helicopter stampede; and another 7 horses died due to lameness.
  • 12 stallions died from complications due to gelding, including hemorrhaging to death.
  • 11 horses died from strangles, a highly contagious respiratory infected which can become rampant in holding facilities.

The actual death toll is even higher, AWHPC noted, because the numbers do not include deaths of foals who perish before they are old enough to be branded and entered into the BLM’s tracking system.

Previously, AWHPC analyzed post-capture deaths from the 2010 Calico Mountains wild horse roundup in Nevada and found that the majority of deaths were related to the trauma and stress of the roundup and capture, the trauma associated with social loss sustained in the destruction of horse family bands, and the ongoing stress of captivity in an unnatural environment.

“The bad news for wild horses only begins with the gather,” wrote Dr. Bruce Nock, Associate Professor at the Washington University School of Medicine and expert on the physiological effects of stress on animals, in a 2010 report prepared for the AWHPC. “To these wild horses, the sources of stress must seem endless. Everything is foreign … truly disturbing for a species that depends on familiarity for safety and comfort . . . It is extremely detrimental to their long-term health and soundness.”

Last month, AWHPC, The Cloud Foundation, Return to Freedom and photographers Carol Walker and Kimerlee Curyl, represented by Meyer, Glitzenstein & Crystal, won a partial victory in their lawsuit against the BLM for the checkerboard roundup, when a U.S. District Court judge in Wyoming ruled that the BLM had violated the National Environmental Policy Act in proceeding with the roundup in the absence of proper analysis and public input.

The American Wild Horse Preservation Campaign (AWHPC) is a coalition of more than 60 horse advocacy, public interest, and conservation organizations dedicated to preserving American wild horses and burros in viable, free-roaming herds for generations to come, as part of our national heritage. AWHPC was founded in 2004 by Return to Freedom.

Read the Daily Beast article: Protected Wild Horses Die for Ranchers' Profit