On Tuesday, April 29, 2014, another meeting of the ESRD stakeholders meeting was held in Red Deer. WHOAS had two of our board members in attendance to represent the wild horses and for all those that care about them. At this meeting WHOAS had two wild horse management proposals being presented to the committee.
First off the final count of this year’s census was released with the population for the six equine zones being 880 head of wild horses. This is down from the previous year’s total count of 980 horses. In opposition to the cull that was called for this past winter, WHOAS had argued that with high foal mortality in the previous two years and then with the hardships of trying to survive this past winter, Mother Nature was good at managing wild horse populations, it was not necessary. This fact also plays an important part in our proposals for a better and more humane way of population control when and only if necessary.
The first one was the contraception program as presented by Dr. Judith Sampson-French. WHOAS is fully supporting the initiative both with volunteers, tracking information and 100% financial backing. Dr. French’s proposal was submitted for review by the ESRD prior to this meeting for their consideration. In this program a targeted area would be selected where the wild horse numbers may be higher than in others. A target population of 18 mature mares from different bands would be selected for injection of the PZP vaccine. This vaccine is a safe drug to use on wild horses and if used correctly will only take a mare out of production for three years. This way, after the final application through darting, the mares would be able to produce foals again. It has been successfully used in other jurisdictions for control of their populations of wild horses and within the world’s zoo communities for control of their selective breeding programs on a variety of animals. Along with Dr French and her team, WHOAS volunteers would be on the ground to track the selected bands, administer by dart injection PZP and recover the darts used. The ground teams are an important part of this program and I am sure there are enough knowledgeable people who would be willing to help, where and when they were needed.
Our second proposal is an adoption program. With this initiative WHOAS would be solely responsible for the securing of only the younger wild horses in areas where their numbers may have to be controlled. We would use proper and humane relocation pens with sorting capabilities. Thus we could select only the younger horses that entered the pen and release all the others that may have entered. By releasing the more mature animals, it would assure that the herd dynamics and stability stay in place which would assist in the health and survival of the herds.
WHOAS is currently in process of going ahead to build a proper handling/education facility where these younger horses would be taken. Here they would be under the care of WHOAS volunteers and a veterinarian. The facility would allow for the safe and humane handling of these horses to assure their welfare. All animals taken into our facility would then be gentled by trained horse knowledgeable individuals and then when ready, they would be adopted out to new forever homes. We have done this in the past by utilizing one of our member’s property but if we are to be responsible for the preservation of the wild horses and their environment, we need to have a facility such as this to properly do what has to be done. There would be a meeting area where information sessions would be held to further enlighten the public about our wild horses.
WHOAS strongly believes that this is a very viable and humane alternative for population control of the wild horses, where their numbers may have to be controlled. Again most of the reasons for controlling the populations of the wild horses is that they are said to be having a negative impact on the environment and grasses. WHOAS still argues that there is an extremely limited amount of scientific data to substantiate any of the claims of this negative impact that the horses are alleged to be having on the ecosystems in our Alberta foothills. Our proposal is better and far more humane than the current methods or reasoning to reduce wild horse numbers.
WHOAS is willing to take on the role of stewards of the wild horses and assume responsibility of keeping the wild horse population under control. The cost to the Alberta government would be nil. We would willingly work closely with the ESRD to assure that all factors of their concerns involving the wild horses are addressed.
These proposals were discussed at the meeting and no decision was made as to their implementation. Another meeting will be held in June to further discuss these and other issues revolving around your wild horses.
WHOAS is concerned though that there is still a resolve within the ESRD and the other stakeholders that the number of wild horses in the Sundre and Ghost Equine Zones have to be reduced. It is unfortunate that even by their own admissions, the ESRD does not know or have good scientific data to prove what affect the horses may be having on the rangeland or how many horses the range can adequately sustain. We do find it hard to accept that arbitrary decisions are being made of how many wild horses would be removed in any given zone or season without good scientific evidence. WHOAS is still willing to support any unbiased research project to assess any impact that the wild horses have on their environment.
It would also appear that other horse capture permit holders are still going to be allowed to participate. WHOAS believes that our proposal would negate any need for this.
WHOAS is in this for the long term to assure that the wild horses will be there for future generations. We are hoping to continue to recruit new members and look for volunteers to help us in all our endeavours to protect and save your wild horses. We are also hoping soon to receive charitable status that will assist us in our fundraising efforts.
We believe a very positive step has been undertaken and we hope to be able to work closely with the ESRD to fully implement our programs.