There is a raft of major horse welfare issues in America, and one of the most important is the treatment of wild horses and burros on our federal lands. These horses are living symbols of the American West, yet too many horses are rounded up and removed from our public lands, causing unnecessary stress for horses at an enormous and unsustainable long-term expense to taxpayers.
We need new approaches to break the gridlock on this issue. Fertility control provides a new pathway. We want to replace gather-and-removal practices with the humane capture of mares in order to treat them with the immunocontraception vaccine PZP and release them back to the range (also known as capture/treat/release). We want to replace gathers using helicopters with passive gather techniques, such as water and nutrient-bait trapping (placing water or nutrients in an area where they are scarce to gradually lure and then build a temporary corral around the horses). And we want to develop and use efficient techniques for remotely delivering PZP to mares on the range so gathers are no longer needed.
The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) is starting to embrace this way of thinking. In the coming weeks, the BLM plans to conduct capture/treat/release programs at 11 wild horse herd management areas in the near future. This is a tremendous step forward in creating a more humane and sustainable wild horse management program and we applaud the BLM for its efforts. Once the BLM fully embraces this approach, it will save millions of tax dollars and get the agency off the treadmill of rounding up horses and keeping them in long-term holding pens on the government dole.
Field researchers for The HSUS are currently studying the use of passive gather techniques to gently lure wild horses to areas where they can be treated with the PZP immunocontraception vaccine and released without ever being captured. In the Sand Wash Basin management area, our researchers recently reported that they were able to successfully treat 82 percent of previously treated mares via remote delivery, without the need for any type of gather.
For more than 20 years, The HSUS has been conducting wildlife contraception research and we’re confident that PZP is a valuable tool for the humane and efficient management of wild horses. We also understand that, as with any new technology, there may be skepticism or concern that the vaccine may have unintended consequences. We encourage anyone looking for more information to browse this webpage, which more broadly describes our vision for wild horse management and answers some frequently asked questions about PZP.