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Federal muster suspended after dehydration deaths

July 13, 2010

by Laurie Dixon

Federal authorities have called a halt to a Nevada muster after the deaths of seven wild horses from complications arising from dehydration.

When water runs out on the eight reservoirs serving more than 500 horses at the Star Ridge area of the Owyhee HMA, in the northwest corner, the horses must travel 10 miles to the South Fork Owyhee River shown here.
The Cloud Foundation, which seeks a moratorium on wild horse gathers, had warned of the dangers of running the muster in the Tuscarora area of Elko County during the height of summer.

The Bureau of Land Management announced the temporary suspension on Monday, saying the decision was made after staff determined that gathered horses were dehydrated.

It confirmed that seven mustered horses had died from dehydration-related complications because of insufficient water in the area.

The bureau said the muster would remain on hold until an assessment had been completed to determine how to best proceed.

"Our agency is committed to the humane treatment of wild horses and burros, both on and off the range," bureau director Bob Abbey said.

"Toward that end, I am suspending further Tuscarora gather operations until the situation concerning the initial stage of the Tuscarora gather is analysed and thoroughly understood, and the options for minimising mortality of horses weakened by dehydration can be assessed."

The Tuscarora operation encompasses the Owyhee, Rock Creek, and Little Humboldt herd management areas.

The bureau started operations in the northern portion of the Owyhee area at 6.30am on Saturday and by 9am the contractor had gathered 228 wild horses.

They comprised one group of about 32 horses located within 1600 metres of the on-site temporary holding corrals, and a second group Of about 196 horses located about 12 kilometres from the corrals.

On arrival it was noted the horses were "drawn up", or lacking fill from water.

The bureau said they were, however, generally in good body condition, with most scoring 4 to 5 on the Henneke body condition scale.

The horses were provided with hay and water through the afternoon and evening.

One horse was euthanised shortly after being gathered due to a fractured leg that occurred in the temporary holding corrals.

On the morning of July 11, four horses were found dead in the pens and several horses were exhibiting signs of colic and brain swelling, subsequently attributed to water starvation/dehydration and subsequent water intoxication.

Gather operations were stopped at that point, and bureau staff, specialists, the gather contractor and the on-site US Department of Agriculture veterinarian began treating the horses.

So far, seven horses have died from complications related to water starvation/dehydration or subsequent water intoxication.

"It was determined this was a direct result of a lack of water in the immediate areas occupied by the horses," the bureau said.

"The bureau brought in extra water, tank trucks and troughs to the temporary holding site to ensure that all gathered animals have ample water available.

"Electrolytes were provided in each pen and affected animals were examined and treated as indicated by the veterinarian on site."

The private contractor conducted an aerial flyover of the immediate area on Sunday, and saw two large bands of wild horses.

One, of 100 to 150 horses, was staying close to a nearly dried-up water hole. The second band, of 150 to 200 horses, is up to 15km from the nearest water source.

"Both of these bands are presently at risk of mortality from dehydration if they do not reach other water sources."

The bureau said it was unable to bring water into the area because the area where these bands are located is not readily accessible by road.

"The bureau will carefully monitor the two bands of horses during the next few days to determine whether they are independently moving to other water sources or can be encouraged to reach such waters on their own.

"The bureau will also continue to provide food, water and veterinary care for the animals in the on-site temporary holding corrals."

On July 8, the Cloud Foundation warned of the dangers of a muster in the hottest month of the year.

It also warned that the feet of foals' would be badly hurt by running them over the area's sharp volcanic rock in a muster.



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