A rapidly swelling wild horse population on the island of Vieques off mainland Puerto Rico has meant the Humane Society of the US has stepped in to help with equine welfare.
The small island of Vieques is known for one of the world’s most remarkable bioluminescent bays, and for its beautiful, free-roaming paso fino horses. But water is scarce on the island and in some cases the horses have learned how to break water pipes, creating conflicts with humans. Many are hit by cars while walking into town to seek out water sources.
The Humane Society was approached for help by Victor Emeric, the mayor of Vieques, said HSUS CEO Wayne Pacelle.
“Mayor Emeric wants to preserve the island’s horses for their own sake and for the health of the tourism-based economy, but he also wants the population to be maintained at a healthy and stable level,” Pacelle said.
“As the number of horses has grown, the problems they face have magnified. Many die in large numbers during droughts.”
The HSUS has worked in Puerto Rico since 2015, when it announced a comprehensive partnership with the commonwealth’s government to transform animal welfare on the island. Ongoing initiatives include the training of about 3000 law enforcement officers in animal cruelty investigations, and more than 2000 administrators, social workers, and teachers to cultivate a greater appreciation for animals among Puerto Rico’s schoolchildren. Many vaccination and spay/neuter clinics have also been held across the island.
In November, The HSUS started administering PZP to the wild mares in Vieques to keep them from foaling every year. The use of PZP in wild horse herds has been studied extensively for more than 20 years, and it has been proven to be more than 90 percent effective and safe, Pacelle said.
“The use of PZP will not only gradually reduce the island’s wild horse population, but it will also help alleviate some of the human-horse conflicts, and result in an overall improvement in the quality of life for the horses. Treated mares will see increased health benefits and will lead longer and healthier lives without the stress of repeated pregnancy and lactation in an environment with few basic resources. In the long term, the competition for scarce resources will decrease as the population stabilizes and declines to sustainable levels,” Pacelle said.
Other initiatives include water troughs being placed closer to the horses’ natural habitat, which is expected to lure the horses away from busy urban centers to prevent vehicle collisions.
In January, the HSUS will hold a horse festival in Vieques to coincide with its darting program.
“The festival is geared for the young generation of horse enthusiasts. At the festival teens will have their horses vetted, receive grooming materials, books, and much more,” Pacelle said.
“Simultaneously we will conduct two spay/neuter/vaccine clinics for domestic animals like cats and dogs. Accompanying us will be a large group of HSUS supporters who have spurred our capacity to carry out this wonderful program to help the animals of Puerto Rico.”
Pacelle said it was the HSUS’s goal to “create Humane Puerto Rico.”