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Stress, trauma behind most Calico horse deaths - group

April 20, 2010

Stress and trauma were the main factors behind most of the 86 horse deaths following the controversial Calico Complex muster in northern Nevada, an advocate group claims.

A report issued by the American Wild Horse Preservation Campaign (AWHPC) estimates the cost to taxpayers in the four months through April for the roundup and warehousing of horses in short-term holding facilities to be at least $US1.3 million.

The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) gathered 1922 horses from the five herd management areas in the complex. The scale of the operation angered wild horse advocates, who branded it cruel and unnecessary.

The bureau countered that the muster was necessary to preserve the delicate rangelands.

"The Calico wild horse roundup was one of the most controversial and closely watched BLM actions in decades, but it is a far cry from the treatment that Congress envisioned when it passed the 1971 Wild Horse and Burro Act to protect these iconic animals from harassment and death," said Suzanne Roy, campaign director for the AWHPC.

The report concluded that stress and trauma were significant factors in many of the horse deaths.

"The body doesn't distinguish between a fight-or-flight situation, like being chased by a helicopter, and a psychological stressor," wrote Dr Bruce Nock, Associate Professor at the Washington University School of Medicine and expert on the physiological effects of stress on animals, in a report prepared for the AWHPC.

"That means the bad news for wild horses only begins with the gather," he said.

"Everything about captivity is stressful to one degree or another to wild horses, especially when it begins with the traumatic experience of a gather. It is extremely detrimental to their long-term health and soundness."

The AWPHC report concluded 43 per cent of the deaths were due to diet and metabolic failure, a condition related to the physiological changes induced by stress and trauma.

It found 22 per cent of deaths were due solely to "poor condition", with a majority involving horses aged 20 years and older.

The organisation said these deaths raised humanitarian concerns around the ethics of running elderly horses with helicopters before capture, separation from family and confinement.

It said 19 percent of the deaths were due to traumatic injury either at the capture site or in the holding pens.

The group also noted the high number of spontaneous abortions - at least 40 - which it said were directly related to the winter roundup when heavily pregnant mares weare subjected to stress and trauma.

The Calico muster, aside from costing $US1.3 million so far, will also see taxpayers paying $US1 million a year to warehouse the non-adoptable horses over their full lifespans.

"This costly policy, which relies on expensive roundups every four years, is pursued while cost-effective, on-the-range management strategies are ignored," the AWPHC said.

 

 

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