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A challenge is being mounted against planned sterilization experiments to be conducted on wild horses through an Oregon State University (OSU) research project.
The proposed research has the backing of the Bureau of Land Management (BLM), the federal agency charged with maintaining America’s wild horses.
Wild horse advocacy groups this week filed a formal complaint to halt what they described as barbaric sterilization experiments.
The complaint from the American Wild Horse Preservation Campaign (AWHPC) and the Salt River Wild Horse Management Group (SRWHMG) was addressed to the BLM and the university’s Institutional Animal Care and Use Committee, the university’s vice-president for research, and the Office of Research Integrity.
The groups initially presented the complaint last Wednesday at a public meeting of the BLM’s National Wild Horse and Burro Advisory Board.
They provided the board with video of the proposed procedure and statements from eyewitnesses and veterinarians who questioned the safety and scientific integrity of the experiments.
They also presented the BLM with more than 21,000 comments from citizens opposed to the agency’s plans.
“It’s unconscionable for OSU and the BLM to subject wild mares – most of which are pregnant – to painful and risky experiments that will cause many to have abortions and which will put mares at risk for serious injury, infection and death,” AWHPC executive director Suzanne Roy said.
The BLM reportedly plans to subject the mares to a surgical procedure called ovariectomy via colpotomy. It involves a veterinarian cutting into a mare’s vaginal wall, placing a hand and arm through the vagina into the abdominal cavity, manually locating the ovaries and severing them with a specialist tool.
Up to 100 wild mares held at the BLM’s corrals in Hines, Oregon, would be used in the research.
The groups assert that the procedure would put mares at risk for death from hemorrhage, infection, and evisceration – the protrusion of the bowel through the surgical incision.
Additionally, more than 75 percent of the mares in the experiment are pregnant and the procedure will cause many to suffer abortions, they argue.
They noted that, in wild horses, it was not possible to provide the same post-surgical care available to domestic animals.
They also argued that removing mares’ ovaries would change the natural, wild behaviors of the animals, just as it changed the behavior of domestic horses.
They groups want the BLM to back away from the experiments and pursue more widespread use of a humane fertility control vaccine as a way to manage wild horse populations on federal lands.
“Instead of wasting millions of tax dollars to fund experiments on inhumane, impractical and invasive surgical sterilization experiments, the agency should instead focus resources on using the PZP vaccine to safely control population numbers without impacting the natural behaviors of wild horses and without subjecting them to the risk of pain, suffering and death,” Roy said.
In its complaint, the groups are calling for intervention to stop the research. Approval, it argued, should be withheld because the well-being of the wild horses cannot be ensured and post-operative care cannot be adequately provided. Such surgery was dangerous and impractical in a field setting, and pain and suffering cannot be minimized.
They argue that the BLM’s analysis of the research was based on incomplete information.