Part 8 – Horses, Horses Everywhere

Our Battle with

The Alberta Provincial Government – Part 8

Horses, Horses Everywhere

Here we are at Part 8, and no end in sight! I’m still entitling these stories as Our Battle with The Alberta Provincial Government, as there has been no definitive answer as to whether or not our Alberta wildies will survive on our Public Lands. Until such time as we receive that answer, the title, unfortunately, remains.

I am still finding that very little factual information is being put forward by WHOAS regarding the PZP Program. WHOAS is creating a lot of animosity between itself and horse advocates by failing/refusing to publish information it has been asked for. I believe they are trying to keep everything quiet until they have some results, which are expected in 2017. That will be 3 years of unanswered questions for most people. That, in my opinion, is too long to wait for answers.

In that regard, I spoke with Ross Spence, Acting Chair of the Feral Horse Advisory Committee (FHAC) on July 5, 2016. He was very forthright in his answers, which I found to be quite a change in communications from the old ESRD days.

Mr. Spence made it clear that he did not have the specific information I was asking for, right in front of him, but that he would give me his best guess. I was told that approximately 80 – 85 mares had been darted with PZP, since the Program began in 2014. Approximately 40+ mares have been darted a second time, which means those mares will not produce a foal in 2017. If the remaining 40+ mares receive a second darting, then 80+ mares will not produce a foal in 2017.

If you recall, the original number of mares to be darted was 10 – 18. This was based on a static population of 850 horses. The trial was to be for 3 years, with no captures or culls allowed during that time in any of the Equine Zones. Of course, all this fell by the wayside when the veterinarian that originally brought this proposal forward, felt she had to walk away from the PZP Trial due to differences with WHOAS. WHOAS carried on with the Program and brought another veterinarian on-board, the Memorandum of Understanding was redrafted to allow captures and culls in all 6 Equine Zones, including the 4 PZP Trial Zones, and it has now come to light, that the original number of 10 – 18 mares, has ballooned to unbelievable proportions.

We had a hint that more than 10 – 18 mares were going to be darted in WHOAS blog post of June 16, 2015:

“On June 16th the Stakeholder’s Committee held a meeting to discuss strategies for managing the wild horses. There are those on the committee and outside of it who still believe that the number of wild horses has to be dramatically decreased and even eradicated from the landscape. Since removal of the horses through culling is not off the table at the Stakeholder’s meeting, despite our insistence that it is not a good management tool, it is apparent to those in the scientific community and to WHOAS that our contraception program has to be expanded.”

It seems the number of mares to be darted is based on what they are told to do by the FHAC. What happened to the small trial, and the published results as to whether it was successful, and time to address any problems that might have occurred, before a full out darting program is begun? I am 100% opposed to WHOAS making these decisions, without Public input. I’m sure that WHOAS feels that since the PZP Program is privately funded, they can do what they want, but the wildies do not belong to WHOAS, they belong to the people of Alberta, and we have a right to know what is going on, and a say in the wild horses’ care and control.

Statistics show there is a high mortality rate among foals, with approximately 25% surviving. The 2016 count for the Sundre Zone was 543 horses. Of those 543 horses, stallions out number mares 60 – 40, so a good guess means there are approximately 217 mares, of which 80 are darted. This leaves 137 mares that are able to produce foals. If 75% of those 137 foals die, there will only be 34 foals surviving in the Sundre Zone. These are approximations, but those numbers are realistic calculations, based on scientific studies done on survival rates of wild horses in the U.S. This does not take into account the number of deaths of older horses, the mares that are too young to breed, and those mares that didn’t naturally become in foal.

Mr. Spence and I talked about the misconceptions and falsehoods floating around Alberta regarding wild horses wandering, or being invited onto private property, through downed fencing or gates left open. The falsehood being that these horses become the property of the landowner. The Stray Animal Act and the Horse Capture Regulation have very clear rules, and nowhere in that Act or Regulation are there any provisions for the landowner to claim ownership of these horses. A Statement of Capture must be completed within 48 hours of confinement of the horses. The Inspector must be contacted, and he will then attempt to find the owner. In the case of the wild horses, the Crown is the owner, so these horses MUST be returned to Public Land. If you have proof that someone is not following the above steps, contact Livestock Inspection Services, AE&P and the RCMP. This is illegal. The ONLY legal method of removing wild horses from Public Lands is via a Capture Permit.

It is my belief that the wild horse numbers manage themselves if left alone. It is also my belief, that the increases we see in the wild horse numbers despite roundups, legal and otherwise, are due to domestic horses being dumped on Public Lands.

I made a suggestion to Mr. Spence, on how to deter this from occurring. I suggested that the funds spent hiring a helicopter to do an annual count, which amounts to $40,000 for all 6 Equine Zones, could be allocated to hiring a person specifically to go to horse breeding operations, outfitters and trail riding operations around the Sundre Zone and do a head count. These operations would have to produce documentation on all their horses, and either show they still have them, or they were legitimately sold. This new employee, could also liaise with auction houses, to ensure proper paperwork accompanies horses being sold at auction. This would have the added benefit of ensuring that those people who are illegally capturing our wild horses, would be caught. Mr. Spence doesn’t believe this will happen due to funding restraints. Perhaps Livestock Inspection Services could take this on?

I inquired about balancing out the FHAC by adding pro-horse Stakeholders. Mr. Spence believes there are 3 pro-horse Stakeholders already on the Committee, and cited WHOAS, the Alberta Equestrian Federation and the Alberta Veterinary Medical Association. I strongly disagreed with him! WHOAS has just finished darting 80+ mares on the FHAC say so, and who knows how many more will be darted over the next year. There was no public consultation, and in my opinion, there should have been! The Alberta Equestrian Federation is pro-slaughter, and has voted in favor of roundups. The Alberta Veterinary Medical Association have also voted in favor of roundups and, let’s not forget, they were the ones claiming the wild horses were infected with Equine Infectious Anemia, and wanted them all removed, which proved to be completely false.

I also suggested that it would go a long way to settling many of these arguments, if AE&P would post up to date information on its website regarding the outcome of the FHAC Meetings, the PZP Program, etc. He agreed that information was not being shared properly, and that it should be. I also pointed out, that since AE&P have been shown to be less than honest with the General Public, that it really was necessary to have someone on the Committee who is truly a pro-horse advocate.

I will continue to liaise with the Government, to make sure everyone is kept in the loop.

I inquired about AE&P allocating funds to Dr. Poissant’s DNA and nematode studies. This study has ground to a halt due to money constraints. Those results will be invaluable as far as settling the question as to whether the wild horses are Heritage Breeds and should be preserved and protected, and will also show exactly how many are domestic horses, that have been unscrupulously dumped on Public Lands, artificially inflating the wild horse numbers. Again, Mr. Spence doesn’t think this will happen, due to funding restraints, but funding may be available through other avenues, and the results will be published when available.

Finally, here are the numbers of the wild horse count for 2016.

Sundre           –   543
Ghost             –   185
Elbow             –     53
Clearwater      –     46
Nordegg          –    20
Brazeau          –      4

Total              =   851

July 8, 2016