67 wild horses dead from ‘unknown disease’ in Colorado detention center

Horses stand in corrals waiting to be adopted in March as part of the Bureau of Land Management’s first auction for horses herded into the sand wash basin last fall.
Dylan Anderson / Steamboat Pilot and Today

An “unknown, but highly contagious” disease has killed 67 former wild horses at the Bureau of Land Management’s detention facility in Cañon City since April 23, according to the Bureau of Land Management.

BLM Colorado spokesman Steven Hall said Tuesday, April 26, the agency is working with Colorado State University and University of California Davis to identify the disease.

“We hope to have that answer as soon as possible,” Hall said. “Two different universities are helping with the analysis, both in terms of tissue samples, blood samples and autopsies, so we’re doing everything we can to find that answer.”

There are more than 2,500 feral horses at the facility, including most of the horses herded into the famous Sand Wash Basin herd in Moffat County last fall. The first of these horses was adopted last month.

Hall said the horses congregated in the West Douglas herd management area last fall were the most affected, although he said he did not have precise measurements of the origin of each of the horses who died.

“That doesn’t mean there wasn’t a Sand Wash horse or a few Sand Wash horses affected,” Hall said. “Primarily it’s been in the people of West Douglas.”

The deaths were strongly criticized by the American Wild Horse Campaign on Tuesday, saying the BLM roundups that put more than 60,000 feral horses in government corrals are at the heart of the problem. BLM argues that roundups are necessary to bring populations down to a manageable level.

“The agency plans to round up and remove another 19,000 feral horses and burros from public lands this year,” said Suzanne Roy, executive director of the advocacy group, which has been harshly critical of the BLM’s handling of horses. wild across the West. .

“We can expect to see more suffering and death if the BLM continues on this dangerous and destructive path,” Roy continued.

In the statement, the Wild Horse Campaign said the agency noted that horses rounded up at the West Douglas rally near the Utah state line were separated in Cañon City pending further testing for the equine infectious anemia, an infectious disease that had been confirmed in horses in the nearby town of Uintah. County, Utah.

Hall said there was a condition associated with some of the horses rounded up in the West Douglas area, but he was unsure if it could have contributed to this outbreak.

“This is an area that is not suitable for wild horses and has been for years due to vegetation (and) access to water,” Hall said. “It’s no surprise that some of the West Douglas horses were brought together with existing health issues.”

The West Douglas roundup last fall focused on horses that were technically outside the herd management area. In the minds of land managers, horses have no place at all.

Prior to the Sand Wash Basin rally, the roundup in the West Douglas area was the largest in Colorado history with 457 horses captured. A month later, the BLM removed 632 horses from Sand Wash Basin.

This is the second outbreak of illness at a BLM facility holding horses this year.

On March 28, the BLM announced that it would cancel an adoption event scheduled for April 1. at his Wheatland Off-Range Corral facility in Wyoming because horses there were suffering from an upper respiratory disease called Streptococcus equi, or “strangles.” The March statement says the disease is similar to strep throat in humans.

Last week, the BLM canceled another adoption event at the Wyoming facility, saying the horses had yet to fully recover from the “persistent illness”. However, the BLM has not reported any deaths at this facility.

“Some horses are still showing signs of illness,” the April 22 BLM statement read. “Therefore, the closure and quarantine will remain in effect until a veterinarian determines the horses are no longer infectious.”

Hall said he didn’t know of a connection between the facilities that could explain the outbreak.

Hall said large outbreaks like this are rare at the Cañon City facility, which has the capacity to hold up to 2,900 horses. Hall said he didn’t know how many horses were sick, just the number of horses that died from the disease.

Hall said disease outbreaks among livestock in general are “something that happens”, and it’s “not surprising that some of the same diseases or conditions that can affect domestic livestock can also enter a feral horse corral. “.

Currently, horses that have been exposed or show symptoms are separated from those that do not show symptoms and have not been exposed. The property is under voluntary quarantine.

“The plan is to try to find out and figure out what’s causing this, and find a way to protect as many horses as possible in this facility,” Hall said. “And don’t let this spread to other horses either.”

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