Michael Blake: This is extermination not a rescue

Wild horses: the government is rounding up ‘excess’ animals, condemning many to slaughter despite a law protecting them 

Copyright LA Times- February 08, 1993

by Michael Blake, the author of “Dances With Wolves” (Fawcett).
It is raining today in Las Vegas and I am thinking again of the horses. Now they are trying something new to get rid of them. They have 50 of them in a pen between two, large casino-hotels near the fabled Strip. As a new Administration begins its work, these horses stand as a testament to 20 years of failed governmental policy.
I know what the people who drift past that pen are seeing. They are viewing animals that have been humiliated and defeated. Most have lost weight since they were captured. Dehydration is a common condition at this stage. Some of them are still in shock. All of them are terrified.What the people looking through the pipe corral don’t know is that the horses inside are not just a few excess animals rounded up for humane adoption. They and thousands like them are victims of a vicious, long-running campaign of annihilation that has recently accelerated into what is the final phase.There has been great controversy over the number of wild horses in Nevada. Estimates for 1992 ran as high as 75,000, but the government agency directly responsible, the Bureau of Land Management, has most often estimated 30,000 to 35,000. The government has said it will forcibly remove 14,000 “excess” wild horses from public lands this year.

Last August, I helped commission the first comprehensive aerial census of wild horses in Nevada. In almost every herd area, the horses were far less numerous than BLM estimates. Thefinal count in our survey was 8,324.The horses will be gone this year or next if something isn’t done to protect them.In 1971, Congress passed a law giving the horses federal protection. This came about as a result of the second-largest write-in campaign in American history. The law states that the horses are notto be hunted withaircraft, harassed or rounded up for slaughter.But since 1971, the horses have been given no protection. They have been shot, poisoned and rustled for slaughter in huge numbers by people who have gone unpunished.

And they have been captured and removed in the thousands by the same government charged with protecting them.

Each cycle of the adopt-a-horse program is the same. Once certain herds are targeted for elimination, the cycle begins with the horror of horses being herded many miles by helicopter. Foals or fetuses are often lost during the forced march and any ailing animals are dead in days. The horses are stuffed into holding pens, where many become sick from the constant dust of close confinement. All the horses must be inoculated against common domestic diseases, which they have never known.

While waiting their turn in the squeeze chute, families are broken up. The wild horses are then jammed into trucks and hauled to large centers. All stallions are castrated upon arrival. The prettiest horses are adopted quickly, but most languish in the concentration centers before finally ending up in a place they are expressly forbidden by law–the slaughterhouse.

The adopt-a-horse program is effectively eliminating wild horses from the American scene and every dime of its support comes from tax dollars. After paying for this destruction, the taxpayer is asked to come down and buy a horse and take it home. But not very many taxpayers are equipped to take the government up on its offer; most of America’s wild horses end up as meat, sliding over the palates of Europeans and Asians who have acquired a fondness for the flesh of our horses.

I have seen wild horses in their natural state and I have spoken to many other people who have seen them. All agree that it is a sight that cannot be adequately described.

What I remember is being awed by the power of their unity. The family units, both large and small, are run with a precision and intelligence that is somehow beyond what we know. It may be a cliche, but it is certainly true that wild horses possess a certain pride in freedom. They are models for the world, living symbols of freedom.

Along with millions of other Americans, I want wild horses to stay, to remain a permanent part of the national landscape, protected and managed, not only in accordance with our laws but in the spirit of our laws as well.

The new Administration must stop these captures and start doing something positive for wild horses and for the public lands upon which they run. Nothing can be done for the 50 horses standing in the rain this day in Las Vegas. I hope that a few of them will find loving homes. For the others, the ones still out and running free, there can be great opportunities. But the hour is late.

Reprinted for educational purposes: