Disease outbreak kills 84 wild horses at holding facility

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Officials are working to identify the cause of the contagious disease that is sweeping through the Colorado holding facility.
Horses in the Sand Wash Basin Wild Horse Herd Management Area in northwestern Colorado. © BLM

A contagious disease is sweeping through horses at the Cañon City Wild Horse and Burro Facility in Colorado, with another 18 horses dying on April 27, bringing the total number of death to 84.

Horses gathered from the West Douglas area in autumn 2021 are the most impacted at the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) facility, which houses 2550 horses. At the time, the BLM noted that West Douglas horses captured near the Utah state line were being segregated from other horses at Canyon City pending testing for Equine Infectious Anemia, a highly infectious disease that had been confirmed in horses in nearby Uintah County, Utah.

The BLM said it was working with local, state and federal officials to determine the cause of death of the horses since the outbreak began on April 23, and the facility is under a voluntary quarantine

“We are working with local, state and federal officials to determine what is impacting horses in the facility and how we can respond as effectively as possible,” said Stephen Leonard, BLM Colorado Wild Horse and Burro Program Manager.

The Cañon City facility also houses wild horses from the popular Sand Wash Basin Herd Management Area (HMA) who were captured in a roundup that sparked massive public outrage and intervention from Governor Jared Polis, First Gentleman Marlon Reis and Congressman Joe Neguse. The BLM said that the Sand Wash horses are separated by 300 yards from the areas in the holding corrals that have been impacted by the recent disease outbreak

Earlier this month there was an outbreak Streptococcus equi, commonly known as strangles, at the BLM’s Wheatland Off-Range Corral (WORC) in Wyoming.

The two outbreaks have drawn the ire of the American Wild Horse Campaign (AWHC) an advocacy group working to reform the federal wild horse roundup programme and replace it with humane management that keeps wild horses and burros wild, protected, and free. The BLM has 59,749 wild horses and 862 wild burros in off-range holding facilities.

The BLM's Cañon City Wild Horse and Burro Facility in Colorado, pictured in 2012.
The BLM’s Cañon City Wild Horse and Burro Facility in Colorado, pictured in 2012. © BLM

AWHC executive director Suzanne Roy said: “Disease outbreaks and deaths are the direct result of the BLM’s inhumane mass roundups. Now, more than 60,000 wild horses and burros are in overcrowded dirt holding pens.

“The agency is planning to round up and remove another 19,000 wild horses and burros from public lands this year. We can expect to see more suffering and death if BLM continues down this dangerous and destructive path.”

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