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."

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Life and Style
Britons buy more than 30 million handsets each year, keeping them for an average of 18 months
tech
Arts and Entertainment
Alloysious Massaquoi, 'G' Hastings and Kayus Bankole of Young Fathers are the surprise winners of this year's Mercury Music Prize
musicThe surprise winners of the Mercury Prize – and a very brief acceptance speech
Arts and Entertainment
TV Presenters Ant McPartlin and Dec Donnelly. Winners of the 'Entertainment Programme' award for 'Ant and Dec's Saturday Night Takeaway'
musicAnt and Dec confirmed as hosts of next year's Brit Awards
Arts and Entertainment
Orson Welles made Citizen Kane at 25, and battled with Hollywood film studios thereafter
film
News
video
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

Primary Teachers Required in King's Lynn

Negotiable: Randstad Education Cambridge: Primary Teachers needed in King's Ly...

Primary Teachers needed in Ely

Negotiable: Randstad Education Cambridge: Primary Teacher needed in the Ely ar...

Teaching Assistant to work with Autistic students

£60 - £65 per day: Randstad Education Leicester: Randstad Education Leicester ...

KS2 Teacher

Negotiable: Randstad Education Cambridge: KS2 Teacher needed in Peterborough a...

Day In a Page

Isis in Syria: A general reveals the lack of communication with the US - and his country's awkward relationship with their allies-by-default

A Syrian general speaks

A senior officer of Bashar al-Assad’s regime talks to Robert Fisk about his army’s brutal struggle with Isis, in a dirty war whose challenges include widespread atrocities
‘A bit of a shock...’ Cambridge economist with Glasgow roots becomes Zambia’s acting President

‘A bit of a shock...’ Economist with Glasgow roots becomes Zambia’s acting President

Guy Scott's predecessor, Michael Sata, died in a London hospital this week after a lengthy illness
Fall of the Berlin Wall: History catches up with Erich Honecker - the East German leader who praised the Iron Curtain and claimed it prevented a Third World War

Fall of the Berlin Wall

History catches up with Erich Honecker - the East German leader who praised the Iron Curtain and claimed it prevented a Third World War
How to turn your mobile phone into easy money

Turn your mobile phone into easy money

There are 90 million unused mobiles in the UK, which would be worth £7bn if we cashed them in, says David Crookes
Independent writers remember their Saturday jobs:

Independent writers remember their Saturday jobs

"I have never regarded anything I have done in "the media" as a proper job"
Lyricist Richard Thomas shares his 11-step recipe for creating a hit West End musical

11-step recipe for creating a West End hit

Richard Thomas, the lyricist behind the Jerry Springer and Anna Nicole Smith operas, explains how Bob Dylan, 'Breaking Bad' and even Noam Chomsky inspired his songbook for the new musical 'Made in Dagenham'
Tonke Dragt's The Letter for the King has finally been translated into English ... 50 years on

Buried treasure: The Letter for the King

The coming-of-age tale about a boy and his mission to save a mythical kingdom has sold a million copies since it was written by an eccentric Dutchwoman in 1962. Yet until last year, no one had read it in English
Can instilling a sense of entrepreneurship in pupils have a positive effect on their learning?

The school that means business

Richard Garner heads to Lancashire, where developing the 'dragons' of the future is also helping one community academy to achieve its educational goals
10 best tablets

The world in your pocket: 10 best tablets

They’re thin, they’re light, you can use them for work on the move or keeping entertained
Lutz Pfannenstiel: The goalkeeper who gave up Bayern Munich for the Crazy Gang, Bradford and a whirlwind trawl across continents

Lutz Pfannenstiel interview

The goalkeeper who gave up Bayern Munich for the Crazy Gang, Bradford and a whirlwind trawl across continents
Pete Jenson: Popular Jürgen Klopp can reignite Borussia Dortmund’s season with visit to Bayern Munich

Pete Jenson's a Different League

Popular Klopp can reignite Dortmund’s season with visit to Bayern
John Cantlie video proves that Isis expects victory in Kobani

Cantlie video proves that Isis expects victory in Kobani

The use of the British hostage demonstrates once again the militants' skill and originality in conducting a propaganda war, says Patrick Cockburn
The killer instinct: The man who helps students spot potential murderers

The killer instinct

Phil Chalmers travels the US warning students how to spot possible future murderers, but can his contentious methods really stop the bloodshed?
Clothing the gap: A new exhibition celebrates women who stood apart from the fashion herd

Clothing the gap

A new exhibition celebrates women who stood apart from the fashion herd
Fall of the Berlin Wall: Goodbye to all that - the lost world beyond the Iron Curtain

The Fall of the Berlin Wall

Goodbye to all that - the lost world beyond the Iron Curtain