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August 01, 2020

Wild horse, burro program starts fertility control trials, sees adoption high

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Adoptions and sales of wild horses and burros through the Wild Horse and Burro Program have reached a 15-year high, according to the Bureau of Land Management, which manages the program. The federal agency released information in May about its successes and future plans.

The increase in adoptions resulted, in part, from the BLM’s cash-incentive program. The agency adopted out more than 6,000 animals in the past 12 months and saved taxpayers $170 million, according to a press release.

Wild horses for adoption
Wild horses are offered for adoption at a public off-range pasture near Coalgate, Oklahoma. (Courtesy of the Bureau of Land Management)

“We’re excited that the public has responded so strongly to this innovative program,” said Casey Hammond, principal deputy assistant secretary exercising the authority of the assistant secretary for land and minerals management, in the press release. “The successful use of incentives to increase adoption rates is a win for all involved, saving taxpayers hundreds of millions of dollars, reducing the overpopulation of wild horses and burros on the range, and helping these animals find homes with families who will care for and enjoy them for years to come.”

The AVMA is encouraged by the increase in adoptions.

“While these adoptions alone will not solve the overpopulation issue we currently have on rangelands, they will certainly help,” said Dr. Cia Johnson, director of the AVMA Animal Welfare Division.

The BLM has also started testing a new fertility control vaccine as part of a joint research project between the BLM and the National Wildlife Research Center of the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service.

The vaccine, which contains an oocyte growth factor, is administered to wild mares through a single dose and may prevent pregnancy for three years or longer. Research is in its early phases.

The National Wild Horse and Burro Advisory Board endorsed a policy, from the American Association of Equine Practitioners and the AVMA, on the management of wild horses and burros. The policy states that overpopulation has created welfare risks. The policy can be found at "AAEP-AVMA management of Bureau of Land Management wild horses and burros."

The BLM currently cares for nearly 50,000 wild horses and burros in its off-range corrals and pastures and the agency reports there are over 95,000 on public lands, as of March.

The Wild Horse and Burro Program received $21 million in conditional funding in a legislative package attached to the $1.4 trillion budget deal from earlier this year.

The BLM also submitted a report to Congress in May including several plans for population reduction over the next 15 years.

“The report outlines in detail the challenges associated with bringing the numbers of wild horses and burros down to appropriate management levels,” Dr. Johnson said. “The AVMA believes that multiple strategies, as noted in the report, are necessary to reach the desired herd level, optimize the health of the animals on the range, and reduce welfare impacts caused by overpopulation in areas of limited resources.”

The AVMA Virtual Convention will offer the session “America’s Wild Horses: Living Legends or Faded Legacy?” from 2:30-3:20 p.m. Aug. 21. Speaker Brian Smith is the founder of Funny Farm Mustangs, a nonprofit that works with the BLM and Mustang Heritage Foundation to gentle wild horses and burros in preparation for adoption. The lecture will cover topics such as the history of America’s horses and burros, current practices in range management, and programs at the federal, state, and local levels to facilitate public education and adoption of wild horses and burros.