Ten Mexican horses intercepted while being smuggled across the Rio Grande river into the United States were suffering from the parasitic disease equine piroplasmosis, authorities have revealed.
The case has highlighted the risks posed to US livestock by animals being smuggled across its border from Mexico.
US Border Patrol agents recently seized the 10 adult horses, along with four yearlings, as smugglers tried to take them across the Rio Grande near Indian Hot Springs, in southern Hudspeth county, south of El Paso.
The animals, described as thoroughbreds, were turned over to United States Department of Agriculture officials, who tested the horses in Presidio, Texas, for several diseases considered foreign to the US.
All 10 of the adult animals tested positive for equine piroplasmosis, which is routinely found in Mexico and many other countries around the world, but is not considered endemic to the US.
The blood-borne protozoal disease can be fatal to horses and could create major constraints to interstate and international movements if left undetected. It does not affect humans.
El Paso-based field veterinarian Grant Wease, with the US Department of Agriculture, said the illegal movement of animals was an ongoing concern in the vast open spaces of West Texas.
“In some places, the Rio Grande poses no barrier at all to foot traffic for man or animal,” he said.
Wease said that, in 2011, about 280 head of cattle and 160 equines, mainly horses, were intercepted by federal officials along the Rio Grande.
To further complicate the situation, many of the normal import processes for livestock entering Texas have been impacted by border violence, making the attempt to smuggle animals into the state even more tempting.
The investigation of the most recent incident of horse smuggling is ongoing.
Federal agriculture authorities and the Texas Animal Health Commission are working to determine not only the source of the horses, but the possible destination as well.
The commission recently passed rules around equine piroplasmosis requiring testing of racehorses prior to entry into a Texas track, and numerous other states have done the same because of recent cases found in that population of
“Racing quarter horses with some connection to Mexico appear to be at highest risk of testing positive to the emerging disease,” Texas state veterinarian Dee Ellis said.
Although the intercepted horses were described as thoroughbreds, they were considered to be more likely breeding-type animals rather than race-ready horses.
Ellis continued: “This situation highlights the ongoing border security problems Texas is facing, which leads to an increased risk of disease introduction for the Texas livestock population when animals enter our state illegally.
“I encourage all citizens that witness unusual activity regarding livestock movement near the Mexican border to contact their local law enforcement or animal health officials as quickly as possible to report the situation.”