The Bureau of Land Management refers to the systemic and brutal roundup of wild horses and burros from their native wild habitat, in order to lease those lands over to extractive industrial private interests, as “gathers”. This sanitized word hides a cruel and costly system of forcibly removing these animals from the wild with low-flying helicopters that stampede them over long distances in rough terrain and intense heat, often during foaling season, driving them into trap pens. Foals who are far too young to be forced to run such long distances, sometimes for up to 10 or more miles, suffer painful limb and hoof injuries that will never fully heal due to their legs, spine, and hooves being at such a tender developmental stage, or they become separated and die alone on the range as a result of being unable to keep up with the herd. Pregnant mares and older equines also suffer painful injuries or collapse from exhaustion or overheating. Euthanasia is routine. Some will die later in the holding pens.
Once trapped inside the pens, panicked family bands and herds are torn apart. Foals and injured equines are trampled underfoot. Stallions injure themselves trying to protect or defend their loved ones as their bands and families are forcibly separated, some breaking their own necks trying to escape the pens. Those who survive this terrible ordeal will be transported to crowded, disease-ridden, barren, and shelterless government-run holding facilities, paid for by US tax payers at approximately $50 million a year, and sorted by gender and age for adoption or long term holding. Those considered less adoptable due to their older age may be released back to the range, the mares treated first with fertility control practices such as PZP, which has devastating consequences for their health, and for the genetic viability of the herds they are returning to, equalling a slow form of genocide. Those who fail to be adopted will end up incarcerated for life or risk being sold for as low as $25, often to kill buyers. Currently there are around 70,000 wild equines being held in facilities all across the Western States. As the BLM's carrying limit is 78,000, wild horse advocates are concerned about what the future holds for these animals.
Those who are adopted will not receive any oversight, leaving them at risk of further abuse and neglect, or of being funneled into the slaughter pipeline. The BLM's most recent adoption program, the AIP (Adoption Incentive Program), introduced in 2019, paid adopters $1000 per wild horse and $750 per burro. This program led to tens of thousands of wild equines being "adopted" by "kill buyers" who stockpiled them in inhumane "kill pens" before transporting them in cattle trucks, without food, water or rest, over the U.S. borders to slaughter. In 2022, more than 20,000 of America's wild equines were taken to their deaths, a betrayal of America's false promise in The Wild Free Roaming Horses & Burros Act of 1971, that wild horses and burros "...shall be protected from capture, branding, harassment, or death; and to accomplish this they are to be considered in the area where presently found, as an integral part of the natural system of the public lands." Since this Act was passed more than 250,000 horses have been taken from those lands in the name of profit.
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In 2022, approximately 20,000 wild horses and burros were trucked over the borders to Canada and Mexico to be slaughtered for human consumption. This number included pregnant mares, foals, and injured or blind animals, being legally shipped for more than 24 hours at a time in crowded trucks and in inhumane conditions. For horses, the horrifying ordeal of industrial slaughter is a particularly brutal and terrifying end as, having the largest amygdala of all land mammals, the part of the brain that instigates the fight or flight response, these animals are extremely prone to fear. There are many reports of wild horses flinging their heads in the "kill box" due to the abject terror they are experiencing, and sustaining multiple injuries, sometimes even breaking their own necks, on the way to their death. With the BLM roundups increasing each year, every captured wild horse or donkey is at risk of this atrocity.
Once inside the kill box, equines are stunned before being slowly bled out (a process called exsanguination) to prevent the meat from spoiling. However according to equine welfare advocates, the physiology of the equine cranium is such that the method of stunning is not reliable for these animals, meaning that they will often remain either fully or partially conscious during the skinning and butchering process, and likely experience extreme pain. Footage taken at a slaughterhouse by the organization Animal Equality, showed malnourished and sick animals who were unable to walk being beaten with sticks, and hung up with chains to suffocate them while they were still conscious. Workers were shown using electric shocks and pressurized water hoses to spray these terrified animals in the face in order to herd them into the kill box.
in older slaughterhouses throughout Mexico, the puntilla method is still used. This involves jabbing at the spine multiple times with a sharp knife to sever the spinal cord and paralyze the animal. There are reports of animals enduring dozens of jabs before finally collapsing. Once these animals finally collapse, they will be left on their own for several minutes, until a worker attaches a chain to one of the hind legs, hoists them up and slits their throats. Temple Grandin, a professor of animal science at Colorado State University, who has researched ways to reduce stress on slaughter animals, has called this routine technique "horrific beyond belief" and "one of the absolute worst ways to kill an animal." He explained that repeated jabs to the spinal cord does not kill the animals, but renders them quadriplegics. Even a clean jab to the spinal cord, which is difficult to do, may dull sensation in the body but not in the head.
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