Article by Karen A. Sussman, President of the International Society for the Protection of Mustangs and Burros
Karen A. Sussman, President of the International Society for the Protection of Mustangs and Burros
“I am writing this on behalf of my predecessors, Wild Horse Annie, and Helen Reilly. PZP is treating a symptom and is not getting at the root cause. The cause of the increase in fertility is simply related to massive removals by the BLM causing harm to the social structures of horses. We have returned older and wiser horses back to their rangelands called “Selective Removals” for the past twenty years. BLM no longer is selectively returning animals now. The reason this did not work is because the animals harems were not protected. This problem is critical…. stallions were removed from their harem mares in the roundups and when they are were turned loose to go back to their HMA, the younger stallions stole mares leaving the harems torn apart. What should have been done at that time but we weren’t aware of this until I have studied our four herds for 15 years, is that removals must be made by harem. Gather one harem, remove who must be removed and return. This is critical to the protection of the harems and keeping their structures intact. Now onto the issue of PZP. In order to give PZP two doses within 30 days or so, the animals must be kept in confinement for that time. Then thereafter yearly doses are administered and the animals must be gathered again. It is very doubtful that they can inoculate PZP in the wild so the animals must be gathered in mass and contracepted again skewing the harem structures when they are released. This type of PZP inoculation is as bad as the BLM removing horses permanently because it disrupts the harems. I brought this up at the 2009 conference in Vegas of which ISPMB was a co-host and HSUS presented this to the BLM and they said it was too expensive to gather harem by harem. Pryors and Little Bookcliffs, PZP is administered in the field which is how it should be administered.. Now the final argument and I know Annie would have supported this – we have half the numbers of horses now that we did in 1971. She was alive when animals were counted in 1974.
The counting method was visual which has about a 50% undercounting problem so there were more than 60,000 wild horses an burros. The law clearly states that they were “fast disappearing from the American scene” and needed protection. Why are we even discussing PZP as an avenue., It is BLM’s management that is causing the increase in numbers. Our studies show now that growth rate averages between 10-14% while BLM’s growth rate is 20-28%. Our herds have not been disrupted in 15 years and they are growing very slowly, This is the evidence that needs to come forward. PZP means that we are agreeing that there are too many horses. Why are we falling into this trap? We should be advocating that the herds should be left alone. Every time a harem is disrupted we are creating problems. The next major problem is when we employ PZP we must make the decision who breeds and who does not breed. This is exactly what we DON’T want to do. Nature has a wonderful way of keeping survival of the fittest. We as human beings cannot make those decisions for the horses. I have watched for 15 years dominant bands and less dominant bands. Those who have the best survival are the dominant ones. I know them because I watch them. Out of our 170+ HA who can tell us who are the dominant band structures on downward and who has the right to determine who breeds and who does not? The domestic horse industry is having problems because the breeders are determining what they want to see in a horse. There is inbreeding and then the horses known in AQHA as “pigs on stilts”. The average age of soundness in a Quarter horse is 7. And this is why so many of them go to slaughter. ( I was showing QHs before I got my first wild horse in 1981). Do you really want people to make selections in the wild. I don’t and I know Annie would support ISPMB’s decision too. She wanted them left alone.
The way the darting is done on Assateague is let one mare have a foal and then dart her out of the breeding game. With a foal coming up then all the genes can be passed on. This DOES NOT take into account behaviors and who is geared to continue survival over the next 500 years. With no mentorship from aged mares who have procreated for years because they can only have one foal, how can there be any mentorship to the new fillies who have to learn from their mothers. Same thing with stallions. They learn behaviors. Then there is the possibility that PZP can render horses infertile after five years of application. We should have studies coming up on this in the next few years. Again it is frightening that we will be the ones who choose who can and cannot breed. We are losing the true nature of wild horses and that Annie would be horrified about. My closing comments for this forum are we must advocated that BLM follows the law and determines who is causing harm to the habitat. I can assure you it is not the horses. If they did honest monitoring of the habitat, there would be no question that there would be more horses on the landscape and not less. There is NO monitoring. We must stop rounding up the horses separating the stallions from their mares – including PZP which means they would have to rounded up yearly to administer the vaccine. We must not fall into the trap that there are too many horses that need PZP. We must stand up for the horses now before it is too late. STOP DISRUPTING HAREMS and fertility rates will go down. Let’s have a buy out for cattle in HMAs and pay ranchers not to run cows. This can be done!”
The International Society for the Protection of Mustangs and Burros’ website: http://www.ispmb.org