Washington plans mass slaughter of America's mustangs

Pressure from cattle-ranching industry could lead to more than 30,000 horses being culled

Wild mustangs, those quintessential symbols of the American West for hundreds of years, are facing their most deadly predator yet: the pen-pushing civil servants of the US Bureau of Land Management.

Growing pressure on the horses' traditional habitat has left officials contemplating a programme of mass slaughter to reduce the number of mustangs held captive in government-run pens. More than 33,000 of the animals, almost as many as the number still in the wild, have been rounded up and taken off increasingly barren public land in recent years, to reduce pressure on grazing required by the cattle-ranching industry.

But the increasing cost of keeping them fed and watered has left the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) contemplating a programme of what it calls "euthanasia" – sending healthy horses to slaughterhouses where they are likely to be turned into steak for export to France.

The proposal sparked outrage from conservationists when it was outlined in a recent Government Accountability Office report, with welfare groups accusing the BLM of holding an unnecessarily high number of mustangs in captivity in order to appease the politically powerful ranching lobby.

"They say there are too many horses left on the range, and that they need to gather them all the time," said Jerry Reynoldson of the Wild Horse Adoption Association. "But there are only 30,000 left in the wild, and they're spread over 10 states. In Nevada alone, the BLM controls 47 million acres. But the ranchers control economic forces and pay lobbyists in Washington, so they give the horses short shrift and convince the authorities that they need to be taken off the land."

Campaigners say slaughter would mark an ignominious end for a creature that arrived in North America with the Spanish conquistadores in the 16th century, and which once existed in such numbers that maps of Texas from the 1700s marked many areas as simply: "vast herds of wild horses". Deanne Stillman, author of a new book, Mustang: The Saga of the Wild Horse in the American West, said: "Horses blazed our trails, they fought our wars, they are the greatest icons of freedom. The word 'euthanasia' suggests that the BLM will be putting these horses out of their misery. But they are not in misery in the first place. It's the most cynical thing I've ever heard."

Today, 33,100 mustangs are left in the wild, roaming in 199 herds. Because the animals have few natural predators left and do not provide sport for hunters, government officials say a quota must be taken into captivity each year. Some of the captive horses are adopted by members of the public, but supply has outstripped demand in recent years, and the BLM says drastic action is needed to reduce the number in captivity, which cost $21m (£14m) a year to feed. "We don't want to do euthanasia, but we are up against the wall on our budget," a spokesman told USA Today.

The only hope for many horses may lie with Madeleine Pickens, wife of the Texan oil billionaire T Boone Pickens, who recently announced that she was trying to establish a million-acre refuge where all captive mustangs can be released. Her plan will see private land turned into a rural theme park where Americans can interact with the mustangs. Its announcement persuaded the BLM to grant captive horses a stay of execution until the New Year.

"We will take all the excess horses," Mrs Pickens explained, "and put them somewhere where families can see them and live among them, and camp out in teepees and have bonfires and look up at the stars and get to know this incredible aspect of our heritage."

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA year of political gossip, levity and intrigue from the sharpest pen in Westminster
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Magento Front End Web Developer

£25000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Front End Web Developer is re...

Investigo: management accountant

£250 - £300 per day: Investigo: Growing international marketing business requi...

Recruitment Genius: ORM / Online Reputational Consultant

£18000 - £22000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An ORM Consultant is required t...

Recruitment Genius: Facilities Manager

£21000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This leading provider of educat...

Day In a Page

Greece elections: In times like these, the EU has far more dangerous adversaries than Syriza

Greece elections

In times like these, the EU has far more dangerous adversaries than Syriza, says Patrick Cockburn
Holocaust Memorial Day: Nazi victims remembered as spectre of prejudice reappears

Holocaust Memorial Day

Nazi victims remembered as spectre of prejudice reappears over Europe
Fortitude and the Arctic attraction: Our fascination with the last great wilderness

Magnetic north

The Arctic has always exerted a pull, from Greek myth to new thriller Fortitude. Gerard Gilbert considers what's behind our fascination with the last great wilderness
Homeless Veterans appeal: Homeless in Wales can find inspiration from Daniel’s story

Homeless Veterans appeal

Homeless in Wales can find inspiration from Daniel’s story
Front National family feud? Marine Le Pen and her relatives clash over French far-right party's response to Paris terror attacks

Front National family feud?

Marine Le Pen and her relatives clash over French far-right party's response to Paris terror attacks
Pot of gold: tasting the world’s most expensive tea

Pot of gold

Tasting the world’s most expensive tea
10 best wildlife-watching experiences: From hen harriers to porpoises

From hen harriers to porpoises: 10 best wildlife-watching experiences

While many of Britain's birds have flown south for the winter, it's still a great time to get outside for a spot of twitching
Nick Easter: 'I don’t want just to hold tackle bags, I want to be out there'

'I don’t want just to hold tackle bags, I want to be out there'

Nick Easter targeting World Cup place after England recall
DSK, Dodo the Pimp, and the Carlton Hotel

The inside track on France's trial of the year

Dominique Strauss-Kahn, Dodo the Pimp, and the Carlton Hotel:
As provocative now as they ever were

Sarah Kane season

Why her plays are as provocative now as when they were written
Murder of Japanese hostage has grim echoes of a killing in Iraq 11 years ago

Murder of Japanese hostage has grim echoes of another killing

Japanese mood was against what was seen as irresponsible trips to a vicious war zone
Syria crisis: Celebrities call on David Cameron to take more refugees as one young mother tells of torture by Assad regime

Celebrities call on David Cameron to take more Syrian refugees

One young mother tells of torture by Assad regime
The enemy within: People who hear voices in their heads are being encouraged to talk back – with promising results

The enemy within

People who hear voices in their heads are being encouraged to talk back
'In Auschwitz you got used to anything'

'In Auschwitz you got used to anything'

Survivors of the Nazi concentration camp remember its horror, 70 years on
Autumn/winter menswear 2015: The uniforms that make up modern life come to the fore

Autumn/winter menswear 2015

The uniforms that make up modern life come to the fore