Forcing wild horses to undergo ovariectomies is animal abuse

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Washington, D.C. (August 3, 2018)—Earlier this week, the Animal Welfare Institute (AWI) and the American Wild Horse Campaign (AWHC) voiced their opposition to the Bureau of Land Management’s barbaric proposal to surgically sterilize wild horses using an experimental and inhumane procedure. As of Monday’s deadline, more than 12,000 citizens and numerous veterinary experts had also submitted comments opposing the procedure.

Under the BLM’s proposal, all of the estimated 885 free-roaming wild horses in the Warm Springs Herd Management Area would be chased and rounded up by helicopter, and 100 mares would be forced to undergo ovariectomies through a colpotmy—an invasive and risky surgery whereby the mare’s ovaries are pulled out while the animal remains conscious.

According to comments submitted to the BLM by both organizations, “The wild mares targeted in this action will … not be provided with any of the critical follow-up care required of this procedure, including … careful monitoring for hemorrhage, pain relief and antibiotic treatment. This lack of any credible post-operative care plan or procedure is appalling and may violate the Animal Welfare Act.”

AWI legal fellow Meredith Hou, a veterinary technician, also submitted a statement on the proposal, explaining that the agency’s “research project proposes animal abuse by knowingly and recklessly causing substantial pain to animals.” Ovariectomies, she added, are rarely performed, except to remove malignant growths from domestic horses under proper sedation and with appropriate post-operative care.

The BLM admits ovariecotomies could have adverse impacts on the welfare of individual animals, as well as on broader herd dynamics. It is deeply troubling that one of the BLM’s stated goals is to quantify how many mares who are pregnant at the time of the ovariectomies will end up aborting their unborn foals.

In 2016, the BLM canceled similar experiments after a lawsuit was filed by AWHC and the Cloud Foundation (TCF).

“The BLM is conducting painful and potentially life-threatening medical experiments on animals the agency is required under law to protect,” said Joanna Grossman, AWI’s equine program manager. “The American public is not going to stand for this kind of abuse.  If the BLM goes forward with this rash and unethical proposal, we will pursue any and all legal remedies.”

Added Brieanah Schwartz, government relations and policy counsel for AWHC: “The BLM is once again trying to subject federally protected wild mares and their unborn foals to an archaic, invasive and dangerous sterilization surgery. The National Academy of Sciences itself warned against such procedures due to the high risk of prolonged bleeding and infection.”

“This proposal is especially unconscionable considering a humane method of population control is available through the use of the proven PZP birth control vaccine,” Schwartz said, “but the BLM continues to vastly underutilize it. These are America’s wild horses and Americans overwhelmingly want them protected on our public lands, not brutalized by the BLM.”

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The Animal Welfare Institute (www.awionline.org) is a nonprofit charitable organization founded in 1951 and dedicated to reducing animal suffering caused by people. AWI engages policymakers, scientists, industry, and the public to achieve better treatment of animals everywhere—in the laboratory, on the farm, in commerce, at home, and in the wild. For more information, visit www.awionline.org.

The American Wild Horse Campaign (AWHC) is a national wild horse advocacy organization whose grassroots mission is endorsed by a coalition of more than 60 horse advocacy, public interest, and conservation organizations. AWHC is dedicated to preserving the American wild horse in viable, free-roaming herds for generations to come, as part of our national heritage.