Well the capture season ended on Friday February 28, 2014 with maybe only 20 (?) horses being removed. We know of only three that were taken for slaughter. We can only hope that the rest were re-homed as claimed. I believe that the overwhelming outcry from Albertans and presence of the supporters who camped or attended at the rally camp, was the reason for it only being this number.
WHOAS had requested that there be no capture season this winter for two main reasons:
1/ In 2012 and 2013 there was a very high foal mortality rate. In those two years members and other supporters reported that at times there was maybe only one foal to every 30-40 adults. By 2013 even, the number of yearlings left, was down yet again. It was our argument that with these natural factors affecting herd growth there was no reason to go ahead with a culling of the numbers, especially with the ludicrous numbers that were scheduled to be removed.
Since we agreed with the count presented, only moved up once, of 980 free-roaming wild horses in the vast expanse of Alberta Foothills, it would be an excellent start to track numbers and population growth or decline. Again this was ignored in favour of the cull concept of what the ESRD calls “management”.
2/ The current winter season started off harshly with unprecedented snow levels in the foothills and mountains where the horses live. Then came the cold! During this time the stakeholders’ meetings were still in progress to determine the “need” for a capture season. WHOAS, based on the previous reason, maintained that again natural factors were going to affect the herd numbers. It was also going to affect the reproduction rate of foals that would be born in the spring of 2014. Again this was ignored.
The ESRD stakeholder meetings are going to continue with the next one scheduled for March 11th. Dr. Judith Samson-French has been invited to attend in order to present her initiative of a contraception program. WHOAS has thrown our full support behind this and will be funding what costs are necessary to get this program off the ground and running. Therefore, the government cannot say the cost of such a program is too expensive. On a side note, the ESRD spokesperson stated that they were evaluating more than one contraceptive and yet we know of only the one that Dr. French is proposing.
WHOAS sincerely hopes that this contraception program is seriously considered and approved. It is our opinion that there is no reason for it not to be. It is an excellent and very humane management strategy for controlling your wild horse population where control is needed.
Many of you have heard of WHOAS’ plan to purchase some land for a handling and education facility. No matter what there will always be some areas where the wild horses do get into trouble and cause problems for private landowners, principally those who have land next to the forestry. As in the past, it is this small group of horses that sometimes cause negative opinions to arise about them. Previously WHOAS has helped relocate these horses, fixed fence lines, and purchased fencing equipment to help a landowner keep the wildies back on public land. We will continue to do this but for those ones that may need to be dealt with, this facility would allow it to happen in a safe and humane way.
We recently received a request from a private landowner, and working through Mr. Theissen, WHOAS retrieved three of these horses, who were causing a concern on his land. These 3 right now are being kept on one of our member’s ranch while we work at gentling them so that they are safe to be adopted out. It is a possibility that the stallion may be entered in a competition for women where an unbroken horse is taken through the journey of becoming trained.
Also every summer there are young foals that end up in difficulty separated from their herds. People on horseback or quads find them and rescue them and these young animals need a place that they can be gentled and adopted out to forever homes.
So where do we go from here? No matter what happens with the contraception program, there is one obstacle that needs to be overcome. That is the status. Your wild horses need to have legislation put forth within the provincial legislature that would enable them to be a protected species. This could be with the designation “free-roaming wild” or “heritage”. It definitely has to change from the term “feral” which allows the opponents of these magnificent animals to continue with their negativity and hostile attitude toward them. WHOAS is working on a couple of strategies to move forward with this.
Further, good independent research has to be done to fully understand what role and what effect these heritage animals do have on the ecosystem as it exists now in our Alberta foothills. After attending a presentation in Cochrane, February 28, the material presented was old or very biased against the horses. A lot of the claims made were still very misleading in allowing people to fully understand the wild horses and their home ranges. As in this presentation, it seems that they continue to look for the negative instead of the positive effect that horses do have on the environment. For example, they are reseeders, depositing unprocessed grass and sedge seeds in the devastated clear cuts where so many of them roam.
The whole issue around the wild horses is not about how many there are or whether they are native or non-native. It boils down to one thing – money. So we encourage you to continue to let the government of Alberta and those in charge of your wild horse decisions, know how you feel. We have attached a couple of sample letters (in .pdf format) you can use as you wish.