Many horses being found abandoned in the southwestern United States have been set loose after being rejected for slaughter at the Mexican border, animal welfare groups allege.
That is the finding of a six-month inquiry by the Equine Welfare Alliance and other animal investigation organisations.
Their findings raise the possibility that most or all of more than 5000 horses a year are being abandoned after being rejected for slaughter at the Mexican border.
It is the predominant source of abandoned horses in the southwestern US, the groups claim.
Their investigation explains the source and reason for abandonments, most of which have been reported in the vast stretches of isolated land north of the Mexican border since 2009.
Most of these horses could clearly be identified as domestic stock from such indications as nail holes in their hooves – where shoes had recently been removed – but no other clues to their source were found.
Until now, news reports about their discovery have speculated they were abandoned by individual owners because they could no longer afford to feed them.
The horse slaughter lobby has further suggested that this was made worse because individuals “no longer had a slaughter option”.
However, horse advocates noted there had been fall in slaughter since the US ban was put in place – the animals were trucked to Mexico and Canada instead – and the abandoned animals were in an area without significant domestic horse populations.
“It made no sense that someone who could not afford to euthanize and bury a horse would elect instead to pay for hauling it hundreds or thousands of miles only to turn it loose,” alliance representatives John Holland and Vicki Tobin noted.
“In fact, many horse advocates had good reason to suspect the reports were bogus.”
Following the closure of US horse slaughter plants in 2007, there were a large number of stories published claiming horses were being abandoned because of a lack of slaughter. These reports ranged from reclaimed strip mines in Kentucky to the Florida Everglades and Oregon ranches. For a year each of these was investigated and found to be false or hugely distorted.
But in the past two years there have been an increasing number of authenticated reports of abandoned horses, mostly in the remote stretches of the southwest border states. A few of these horses actually had hide removed, apparently to obscure a brand.
In August, the first piece of the puzzle fell into place when a group of horses was spotted from the air starving and dead in Texas.
The fact that living horses were found in different stages of starvation and the dead horses were in various stages of decomposition, indicated they had been dumped there at different times.
The group questioned why they had left the horses to perish only a few miles from the border crossing where they could have been sold to the slaughter plants in Mexico.
An answer came in the European Union’s report (DG(SANCO) 2010-8524 – MR), from the 2010 audit of their horse slaughter plants in Mexico.
In section 188.8.131.52, the report divulged that Mexico had rejected 5336 slaughter horses out of 62,560 presented at six border crossing offices during the audit period between January and October 2010.
The horses were rejected under a new system of controls implemented in December, 2009. Reasons for rejection included health problems, advanced pregnancy and injuries.
The alliance said its inquiries indicated that horses rejected at the Mexico border simply “fall out of the system”.
Normally, kill buyers who haul slaughter horses to Mexico try to fill their trailers with cattle and other animals on the return journey.
“So, clearly they need to dispose of the rejected horses, and the most economical way to do so is to simply abandon them on a deserted stretch of road or in an isolated lot,” Holland and Tobin said.
“Ironically, while the horse slaughter lobby has been claiming abandonment was a result of a lack of slaughter, it now appears it is in large part a result of the practice.”