AAEP Task Force: BLM Mustang Care "Appropriate"

After observing Bureau of Land Management (BLM) operations during wild horse gathers and at long- and short-term mustang holding facilities, a task force comprised of American Association of Equine Practitioners (AAEP)-member veterinarians found BLM care and handling of wild mustangs and burros appropriate. But one wild horse advocate believes the task force's impression of BLM operations is inaccurate.

Last June the BLM requested that the AAEP study the safety, health status, health management, care, handling, and welfare of animals the agency manages. For six months beginning in fall 2010, the task force visited several BLM long- and short-term holding sites and observed several wild mustang gathers.

In a report released by the AAEP on Aug. 30, the task force recommended ways the agency could improve mustang handling including expanding the use of fertility-control drugs, implementing biosecurity protocol at holding facilities to reduce infectious disease outbreaks, and requiring helicopter pilots to use flight patterns that maintain safe distances between the aircraft and the animals during roundups.

The recommendations are intended to improve BLM mustang management operations, said William Moyer, DVM, AAEP president; however , the task force determined that overall BLM wild horse management practices generally do not compromise the animals' welfare: "The task force concluded that the care, handling, and management practices utilized by the BLM are appropriate for this population of horses and generally support the safety, health status, and welfare of the animals."

However, Laura Leigh, vice president of the Wild Horse Freedom Federation, disagreed with the task force's overall conclusion. Leigh said that in the last 18 months she has observed inhumane handling of animals during several mustang gathers. She believes the AAEP observers did not get a candid view of BLM wild horse management operations.

"When organizations make announcements prior to their arrival that they are coming to observe protocol, operations change," Leigh said. "More sophisticated public affairs officers fly in and a performance is under way. (Observers such as those in the AAEP task force) do not observe the true daily operations."

Tom Gorey, BLM spokesman, said the AAEP report was thorough, objective, and useful: "The BLM will review the recommendations of the AAEP and will continue its ongoing efforts to maintain and improve the health and welfare of wild horses and burros."

About the Author

Pat Raia

Pat Raia is a veteran journalist who enjoys covering equine welfare, industry, and news. In her spare time, she enjoys riding her Tennessee Walking Horse, Sonny.

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