MEDIA UPDATE: 131 Wild Horses Dead in 14 days at BLM Cañon City Holding Facility

MEDIA UPDATE: 131 Wild Horses Dead in 14 days at BLM Cañon City Holding Facility

BLM vaccination policy in question 

Cañon City, Colorado (May 6, 2022) – One hundred and thirty- one wild horses have died at the Bureau of Land Management (BLM)’s Cañon City holding facility in Colorado over the last 14 days. The American Wild Horse Campaign (AWHC), the nation’s leading wild horse protection organization, is questioning the BLM’s vaccination protocol in what is now the deadliest wild horse disease outbreak in recent history. 

The identified contagion is Equine Influenza Virus (EIV). All 131 of the dead wild horses originally came from the BLM West Douglas Herd Area – also in Colorado – and were either unvaccinated or only partially vaccinated against EIV, despite being rounded up in July/August of 2021 and being in BLM’s care for nearly 10 months. 

New information brings into question BLM policies. Upon news of the outbreak, BLM stated to reporters it has a vaccination policy within 30 days of capture. And, an agency webpage created days before the outbreak states that all adult horses must be vaccinated “as soon as possible” after capture citing a “race against time to build immunity by vaccination while the animals are increasingly exposed to viruses and bacteria in their new environment.” 

The BLM this week corrected its statement saying that wild horses are to be processed within 30 days of capture, which may include vaccination. That decision often falls to the attending veterinarian. BLM policy requires only that horses are freeze branded for identification and receive a Coggins Test for Equine Infectious Anemia (EIA) within 30 days of capture. AWHC suggests a minimum vaccination date upon intake to ensure adequate time for the animals to build up immunity to diseases after entering crowded holding pens. 

“It's concerning to have unvaccinated wild horses in confined areas especially since they were taken out of the environment they thrive in, the wild. This devastating incident must serve as a catalyst for change in BLM policy so we can prevent future outbreaks of disease and subsequent deaths,” said Scott Wilson, American Wild Horse Campaign board member based in Denver and wildlife photographer. “Since the start of the outbreak, not a day has passed without horses dying. Focus must be on containing the spread of the disease and protecting the future well-being of these animals.” 

AWHC is also joining U.S. Representatives Dina Titus (D-NV) and Steve Cohen (D-TN) in calling for a halt to all wild horse and burro roundups and an investigation into the BLM’s holding corrals, including biosecurity measures and vaccination protocols. With 60,000 in holding and two uncontrolled outbreaks of disease in Wyoming and Colorado, it is irresponsible for the BLM to continue mass roundups, which could result in more deaths and suffering of federally-protected wild horses and burros. 

AWHC says the health and welfare crisis in BLM’s holding facilities highlights the need for the  BLM to shift from managing wild horses by roundups to using scientifically proven fertility control vaccine treatments. Fertility control offers a way to manage these animals humanely in the wild and keep them out of holding facilities. In its Fiscal Year 2022 Omnibus spending bill, Congress allocated up to $11 million for a robust fertility control vaccine program. 

Pending intervention, Colorado’s next roundup is scheduled this summer for the Piceance-East Douglas herd, west of Meeker.

Previous press statements on this topic can be found here.

About the American Wild Horse Campaign

The American Wild Horse Campaign (AWHC) is the nation’s leading wild horse protection organization, with more than 700,000 supporters and followers nationwide. AWHC is dedicated to preserving the American wild horse and burros in viable, free-roaming herds for generations to come, as part of our national heritage.