How to save wild mustangs: Buy them up, and take them to Wyoming

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The Independent US

A group committed to saving 5,000 of America's wild horses from the slaughterhouse has bought a first instalment of 200 at auction, and the animals have already been released onto open land in the north-western state of Wyoming.

A group committed to saving 5,000 of America's wild horses from the slaughterhouse has bought a first instalment of 200 at auction, and the animals have already been released onto open land in the north-western state of Wyoming.

Wild Horses Wyoming is one of several organisations to have sprung up since the passage last December of a new American law that permits the government to sell wild horses, also known as mustangs, to the highest bidder at auction without regard for what their final fate may be.

"We are in the business of saving horses," said Sean Mater, one of five partners in the company, which paid $50 (£26) each for the animals, all mares. The animals were put up for auction in Nevada by the Bureau of Land Management, the federal agency that oversees the millions of acres of free range-land in the American West. Horse lovers in the United States have been galvanised into action after the new law was passed at the end of last year. Supported by rancher associations, it was designed to help the government thin out the wild horses, which have grown to a population of around 37,000. The ranchers say they harm the range, which is otherwise grazed by cattle.

Advocates for saving the horses have warned that the auctions mean that hundreds of the mustangs could be bought at rock-bottom prices by dealers and then sold on at a profit to slaughterhouses. Finally, the animals could end up as tinned dog-food, the groups say, or even on dinner tables in countries where horse meat is enjoyed.

Mr Mater said the 200 mares already bought have been released onto thousands of acres of donated range land near the town of Laramie in the Rocky Mountains of Wyoming. He said his company hoped to secure more land from supporters and eventually to be able to take care of around 5,000 mustangs.

The company is seeking to sell horse sponsorships to private supporters and even to companies in the hope of finding new land for the horses as new auctions are held.

"Putting them on good range land allows them to forage for themselves, and remain in that same mode that they were in out on the range," he said.

The government argues that it can no longer afford to manage all the mustangs. The BLM estimates that it spends about $465 per horse each year, keeping many in enclosures and trying to arrange for them to be adopted. In Nevada alone, an estimated 19,000 of the horses already roam on a mostly free basis. The agency says that it needs to cut that number down to 14,500 or fewer.

But the new law, known as the slaughter bill, has drawn a strong reaction from horse lovers, who argue that the mustangs are part of what the American West is all about. "America's wild horses belong to all Americans. They are our heritage and you are their voice," said Robin Lohnes, executive director of the American Horse Protective Association, which recently held a rally in Las Vegas to build support for efforts to save the animals.

Conni Canaday of the Las Vegas-based National Wild Horse Association said that hundreds of the horses would end up as meat because of the profit they could bring meat dealers. "They can make a pretty penny doing it," she said. "The slaughter bill is only a quick fix to lower the horse population."

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