Thailand, already battling the spread of coronavirus, is now contending with another deadly viral outbreak—in horses. With hundreds of horse deaths reported there in the last 3 weeks, horse owners are rushing to seal their animals indoors with netting, away from biting midges that spread the virus for African horse sickness (AHS). Some scientists suspect that zebras, imported from Africa, led to the outbreak.
The disease’s sudden appearance, far from its endemic home in sub-Saharan Africa, has surprised Thai veterinary authorities, who are ramping up testing for the disease and ordering the vaccination of thousands of horses, donkeys, and mules. It is the first major outbreak of the disease outside Africa in 30 years, and AHS experts are worried that it could spread to neighboring countries in Southeast Asia. “A sustained, persistent outbreak of [AHS] that spreads to other countries would be devastating, not only to the racing industry and companion animals, but also to some of the poorest workers in the region relying on working horses, donkeys, and mules,” says Simon Carpenter, an entomologist at the Pirbright Laboratory in the United Kingdom.
Without controls, the virus could even travel via wind-borne midges across seas to herds on island nations, gradually working its way to Australia, which has more than 1 million racing, sport, and feral horses. The nation is “engaging with other countries to develop a regional response to this outbreak,” says Australia’s Chief Veterinary Officer Mark Schipp.
The AHS virus infects horses, donkeys, and zebras, and is typically transmitted by Culicoides midges that live in warm, tropical climates. The virus causes severe heart and lung disease that kills at least 70% of infected horses, but spares zebras and most donkeys, which act as reservoirs for the virus, says Evan Sergeant, an epidemiologist at AusVet Animal Health Services in Canberra, Australia. Treatment options are mostly limited to palliative care, although euthanasia is sometimes recommended because of the brutality of the disease, which causes high fevers, swollen eyes, difficulty breathing, frothy nostrils, internal bleeding, and sudden death.
Aside from brief outbreaks in areas off the African coast, AHS has been contained in Africa since 1990, when veterinary authorities resolved a 3-year-long outbreak in Spain and Portugal caused by the importation of wild African zebras, Carpenter says. The virus hasn’t been reported in Asia since a major epidemic that ended in 1961. That epidemic spread from the Middle East to parts of India and led to hundreds of thousands of equine deaths.
The only commercially available AHS vaccine is based on a live, weakened version of the virus that sometimes produces mild symptoms and can even spread to other horses. Still, it has successfully eradicated previous outbreaks, according to Carpenter. “It’s not an ideal vaccine,” he says. “But it’s nowhere near as bad as the disease itself.”
The outbreak in Thailand may have begun in late February, with the unexplained death of a racehorse in the Pak Chong district near Bangkok. By late March, after rains that might have helped midge populations flourish, more than 40 additional Pak Chong horses were suddenly reported dead, says Nuttavadee Pamaroon, a veterinary officer in Thailand’s Department of Livestock Development (DLD). Thai veterinary authorities ordered AHS testing and immediately froze all horse movement. “It’s not only us who have been locked down because of COVID,” Pamaroon says. “The horses are right now locked down as well.”
However, some infected horses had already moved out of the outbreak zone. On 10 April, its last official update, DLD reported 192 horse deaths across 37 racing, sports, and leisure riding farms. But according to a source working closely with DLD who spoke on condition of anonymity, a total of 302 deaths had been declared to officials by 14 April and numbers are still rising.
Veterinary authorities are ordering testing and the vaccination of disease-free horses in a zone 50 kilometers around the initial outbreak site, Pamaroon says. Because the vaccine can create outbreaks of its own, each vaccinated horse must be held under “strict individual nettings,” says Siraya Chunekamari, a Bangkok-based equine veterinarian who is working with DLD to manage the outbreak.
The first batch of approximately 4000 doses of vaccine was scheduled to arrive last Monday in Bangkok, authorities stated last week. However, local sources say they are still waiting for the vaccine, with delivery expected for Thursday or Friday.
The government is now offering subsidies for AHS testing and vaccines, alleviating financial burdens for owners already hit hard by the economic effects of the coronavirus pandemic, says Nopadol Saropala, a physician who also runs a business offering guided horse rides in Pak Chong. Saropala, who has lost 17 horses to AHS so far, says he joined DLD’s task force last week, representing industry owners. “Many of us already had mosquito netting, but midges are only a millimeter long so we had to put up netting so tightly woven that even light barely gets through,” he says.
Owners want the government to address how the outbreak started, Saropala says. Zebra importers may have benefited from biosecurity loopholes that allowed them to bring the animals into Thailand relatively liberally—a stark contrast to the strict quarantines and inspections required for horse imports. “We know zebras were imported from Africa recently,” he says. “I’m asking the DLD for official data, but they keep dragging their feet.”
Legislation passed 2 weeks ago conspicuously places zebras under DLD jurisdiction for the control of disease outbreaks, but the government remains tight-lipped with regard to zebra import records and test results. “We are testing zebra populations, and for the moment, the investigation is ongoing,” Pamaroon says.
Imported zebras are a plausible source for the outbreak. Midges don’t transmit the virus through cadavers, meat, or hides, Sergeant says, and they haven’t been documented carrying the virus by air farther than 150 kilometers over land or 700 kilometers over water.
Thailand has now lost its AHS disease-free status with the World Organisation for Animal Health, which means it must halt its imports and exports of equine species, wild and domestic. It will take at least 2 years to apply for disease-free status again.
Sharon Hunter, operator of the Redmond-based Hunters Wind Wild Horse Rescue, is accused of animal cruelty after purchasing horses, in an attempt to save them from slaughter. Some of those horses ended up in Enumclaw. Ashley Hiruko/staff photo. The operator of the Redmond-based Hunters Wind Wild Horse Rescue is accused of animal cruelty after purchasing horses, in an attempt to save them from slaughter. Some of those horses ended up in Enumclaw. (Ashley Hiruko / Sound Publishing)
The woman who reportedly owned the horses faced animal cruelty charges in Snohomish County in 2018.
The King County Sheriff’s Office recently raided a Plateau home and took custody of 25 horses after receiving tips concerning animal abuse.
According to Sgt. Ryan Abbott, deputies went to the home on the 38300 block of 324rd Place SE on Dec. 7, after the homeowner called SAFE —the Save A Forgotten Equine rescue organization — about the two dozen horses on her land.
The horses reportedly belong to a woman named Sharon Hunter, who is the owner of Hunter’s Wind Wild Horse Rescue, a nonprofit based in Redmond. According to Abbott, Hunter asked the homeowner to house some horses for a few weeks while Hunter found a more permanent home for them.
However, several reports were made to SAFE stating Hunter wasn’t feeding the horses, nor was there any shelter as the weather started to get colder.
SAFE has taken custody of the horses, which are now up for adoption.
The Redmond Reporter published an article about Hunter and her nonprofit last September. According to the paper, Hunter’s Wind Wild Horse Rescue started out taking in horses scheduled to be killed, but it was unknown if any of the horses were being put up for adoption. The number of horses Hunter owns is unclear, but at one time was estimated to number more than 100.
In February 2018, the Snohomish County Animal Services received a complaint about some horses much in the same situation as the ones seized in Enumclaw — Hunter reportedly approached the homeowners to board the horses on their land, but allegedly failed to care for them.
According to the Reporter, law officers and veterinarians found one horse lying in his own feces and urine, severely malnourished, as well as other horses that were wounded, underweight, and infected.
Hunter was charged with six counts of second-degree animal cruelty in Snohomish County.
Since then, King County has seized horses from an Auburn herd of 80 in August, where there were more allegations of undernourishment and abandonment.
Additionally, there was an issue in Fall City with a herd of 40 after property owners sent a notice to Hunter they wanted her horses off their land. After the deadline to move the horses passed, SAFE attempted to help adopt out some of the horses, but were told to cease and desist by Hunter, who was then allowed to take the 25 horses to move elsewhere.
It’s been speculated those 25 horses were then moved to Enumclaw.
A GoFundMe page for Hunter was created in August to raise money for emergency hay for the horses; only about $300 was raised.
Contact information for Hunter could not be found before deadline; it appears the nonprofit’s Facebook page has been disabled.
(KNOE) – Ft. Polk personnel are investigating the deaths of five horses at Peason Ridge Wildlife Management Area. The horses appear to have been shot.
The following statement was released by Ft. Polk:
“Fort Polk personnel found the five horses in the northwest portion of Peason Ridge and immediately reported it. The Directorate of Emergency Services Game Enforcement section is actively investigating.”
BLM Announces Plan to Destroy the Onaqui Mountain Wild Horse Herd in 2019
By Carol J. Walker, Director of Field Documentation, Wild Horse Freedom Federation
Yesterday the BLM issued a press release on its Decision Record for the Onaqui Mountain Wild Horse Herd in Utah. The BLM says “The objectives of the approved population control measures are to slow the herd’s population growth and achieve and maintain a balance between wild horses on the range and other public land resources.”
You can read the Decision Record and all the other documents here:
Their plan is to remove 465 wild horses from the Herd Management Area in 2019 using both bait trapping and helicopters. Currently the population is estimated to be 505 wild horses, but the BLM is estimating that with foals born in 2019 that the population will be at 586, and they want to bring the herd down to the low end of the Appropriate Management Level of 121 wild horses. As usual, the BLM does not allow for any foal mortality, which can be as high as 40% in the first year of a foal’s life, nor do they allow for deaths of older horses during the winter. The BLM does not say WHEN they plan to do this in 2019 – it could be as early as February or as late as the fall. They cannot use helicopters during foaling season which according to the BLM starts March 1.
If the BLM brings the numbers of the herd down to 121 wild horses, this is far below the number necessary to maintain genetic viability, which according to the leading wild horse geneticist Dr. Gus Cothren is 150 adult wild horses. This risk to the genetic health and survival of this herd will be compounded by the continuing plans of the BLM to use birth control, PZP and Gonacon, to control the birth rate of a herd whose numbers will already be too low.
Ten wild horse advocacy groups including Wild Horse Freedom Federation as well as 7872 individuals submitted comments regarding this plan earlier in the year, and there was tremendous public outcry against this plan. This herd is much loved by members of the American public who come from all over the country to visit, observe and photograph this herd.
Volunteers had begun documenting and training to give birth control to the mares in this herd in order to control the population, and keep the horses in their herd management area with their families where they belong. But the BLM disregarded the wishes of the public and plan to proceed with decimating this herd.
As usual, the BLM has no concern for what happens to these horses once they are removed. If they proceed as they have been doing with herds rounded up in Wyoming this last year, the youngest will be offered for adoption, but likely the public will not even be able to see, let along adopt or purchase all the adult horses over 5 if they get shipped to the private facilities like in Axtell, Utah or Bruneau, Idaho. Instead these horses will be shipped to holding facilities or sold by the semi-load and end up at slaughter.
This is wrong. This plan is cruel, inhumane, dangerous to the continued heath of the herd and against the wishes of the people who care about these wild horses. America’s wild horses do not belong to the BLM, they belong to all of us, and they deserve to live their lives wild and free in their families in their homes, and managed in the most humane and least invasive way possible.
What can you do to help? Contact your Senators and Representatives now:
Negotiators said nay to a House proposal to allow the culling of tens of thousands of horses and burros that roam the West or are held in government-funded corrals and ranches. Proponents of the idea, including its sponsor, Rep. Chris Stewart (R-Utah), described “humane euthanization” as a last-ditch tool for controlling an escalating equine population that is degrading public land and causing horses to starve.
But the proposal was vigorously opposed by wild horse advocacy groups, which have long resisted efforts to limit the federally protected animals that have become symbols of the American West. The groups accuse the Bureau of Land Management, which manages the wild horse and burro populations, of bowing to demands from cattle ranchers who view equine herds as competitors on grazing land.
Animals, people and the world they share.
“We are thrilled that Congress has rejected this sick horse slaughter plan,” Marilyn Kroplick, president of the animal rights group In Defense of Animals, said in a statement that claimed horse lovers had “jammed Congressional phone lines with calls and sent tens of thousands of emails” to make their case.
The 1971 Wild Free-Roaming Horses and Burros Act gave the animals federal protections, and it also permitted the interior secretary to sell or euthanize older and unadoptable animals. But for much of the past three decades, Congress has used annual appropriations bill riders to prohibit the killing of healthy animals and any “sale that results in their destruction for processing into commercial products.”
In July, however, the House Appropriations Committee voted to remove Interior Department budget language banning culls. Stewart said at the time that the proposal would not permit horse sales for commercial processing — including for meat. The last U.S. horse slaughterhouse closed in 2007, but meat-processing plants in Mexico and Canada slaughter tens of thousands of domestic American horses each year for export to Europe and Asia. A Senate proposal retained the protections.
Although the spending bill negotiated this week keeps horses off the chopping block, it does not put forward solutions to what people on all sides of this heated issue agree is a problem. About 46,000 wild horses and burros are in corrals that cost the BLM nearly $50 million to maintain each year, and 73,000 others run free in western states. That’s nearly three times the 27,000 animals the bureau says the land can sustain. Horse advocacy groups say that reducing the free-roaming herds to that figure would risk their extinction.
Adoptions, which have been the bureau’s primary tool for shrinking the population, totaled just 3,517 in 2017. Among other proposals, horse activists have called for wider use of contraception, which skeptics say would be impractical for large-scale reductions.
Neither the BLM nor Stewart’s office responded to requests for comment on the spending bill. In a New York Times column in December, the lawmaker described himself as a horse lover but lamented the funding for corralled horses, saying it would total $1 billion over the animals’ lifetimes.
“That’s $1 billion we could otherwise spend on defense, education, job training or any other worthy cause,” Stewart said. “But the alternative for these horses is starving in the wild.”
The House passed the spending bill Thursday, and the Senate has until midnight Friday to give its approval and avoid another government shutdown. But the battle over the nation’s wild horses will continue. The Trump administration’s fiscal 2019 budget calls for doing away with the usual rider that prevents their sale or killing in favor of allowing the bureau to use a “full suite of tools” to manage the herds.
As Congress works to finalize its FY18 spending bill to fund the federal government, key protections for animals are under attack.
Some members, beholden to special interests, are attempting to reopen horse slaughter plants in the United States, authorize the killing of thousands of healthy wild horses and burros, strip Endangered Species Act protections for Great Lakes wolves, and repeal a rule to prevent cruel and unjustified methods of killing grizzlies and wolf pups on National Park Service lands in Alaska.
It’s a tired old Washington story: attaching measures that could never pass on their own merits to important spending bills that must be approved frequently, as this one has to be, in order to keep the government running. Every year, it’s the same special interests with the same outrageous proposals, literally seeking to harm millions of animals with a few strokes of the pen or the keyboard. And every year, our program experts and the Humane Society Legislative Fund team dig in to hold the line, keeping a close eye on these harmful riders scattered through the House and Senate versions of the bill, and gearing up to defeat them.
You too can do your part to ensure that these provisions do not pass.
Allowing horse slaughter plants to reopen: While the Senate Agriculture Appropriations bill includes language that would keep horse slaughter plants from operating in the United States, the House Appropriations Committee failed to include this “defund” language, which has been in the annual spending bill for most of the last several years. The defund language effectively bans horse slaughter for human consumption by preventing the U.S. Department of Agriculture from using funds to inspect these facilities. Allowing slaughter plants to open will costs millions of taxpayer dollars each year—a move that is both fiscally irresponsible and in conflict with our values as a nation.
Authorizing the slaughter of thousands of healthy wild horses and burros: The House Interior Appropriations bill contains an amendment to allow the Bureau of Land Management to kill thousands of healthy wild horses and burros. In all but one year since 1994, Congress’s final appropriations bills have included language to prevent this. Thankfully, the Senate bill includes that protective language but the House version is a problem.
Removing ESA protections for gray wolves in the Great Lakes: Both chambers’ versions include language to remove federal Endangered Species Act protections for gray wolves in Michigan, Minnesota, Wisconsin, and Wyoming. Further, the provision would bar judicial review of the action. This language overrides a federal appeals court ruling last year that maintained protections for wolves in the western Great Lakes region.
Blocking the implementation of a rule to prevent hunting grizzlies and wolf pups on National Preserves in Alaska: The House bill blocks implementation of a federal rule to prevent inhumane and scientifically unjustified hunting methods on National Preserves—a category of National Park Service land—in Alaska. These practices include luring grizzly bears with bait to shoot them at point-blank distance and killing wolf, black bear, and coyote mothers and their babies at their dens. Last February, Congress repealed a similar rule that protected predators on 76 million acres of National Wildlife Refuges in Alaska. These issues are best left to robust regulatory processes, with input from the public, land managers, and scientific experts, rather than being subjected to the political whims of Congress.
Please act immediately to let your members of Congress know that you want this spending package to protect animals at risk from malicious legislation. Urge them to reject these harmful provisions in the spending bill, and to maintain vital animal welfare protections that most of the American public supports. Remind them that it’s a spending bill, not an opportunity for the defenders of cruelty.
The proposed federal budget cuts includedselling tens of thousands of wild horses to slaughter without limit. A lot of work has been done, and instead of selling our wild horses outright to slaughter, the budget now simply proposes to shoot tens of thousands of them. Language games are being played that all mean the same thing, tens of thousands of wild horses will die.
Massive movement is happening now to take over management of federal land resources, including stripping wild horse protections and oversight.
We continue to gather data and interact directly with Congress and media to expose the lies. Our federal “wild horse program” is a decades old system predicated on myth, not fact, and forwarded to appease profit driven interests. On our western public landscape is changing fast.
We need your help. Our opposition is well funded and well organized. If you can contribute your donation will be doubled through Saturday by a generous contributor.
TURN $20 INTO $40! TURN $100 INTO $200!! Through Saturdaymidnight, ALL DONATIONS TO OUR FIGHT FUND WILL BE DOUBLED!! We are fighting for their lives. Please help!
This Wednesday we are running a webinar to discuss pending votes on the Appropriations bills and other public land legislation. The session will begin at 6:30 pm, pacific time, and run about 1.5 hours with time set aside to address specific questions. The entire session should last no more than 2 hours. Contributions made to attend the webinar will also be doubled.
Hunting wild horses is not illegal in Australia. Proponents of hunting, or culling as they refer to it, point to the fact the Brumby is a non-native species that is invasive and destructive to the environment. Earlier this year, the Australian government released details of their plan to kill 90% of the Brumby population in the Snowy Mountain region. The wild horses in this region were made famous by the movie The Man From Snowy River. These horses have been there for 150 years, and opponents to this plan do not find a reason to change this. Please sign my petition to put an end to this brutal, unnecessary cruelty to horses.
Chief, a Kiger mustang born in the remote wilderness of Utah, lives with 400 other rescued wild horses and burros in a 1,500 acre sanctuary, hundreds of miles from his original home. Years ago the stallion was captured in a round up led by the Bureau of Land Management. After a long helicopter chase, he ended up in a government-run holding facility for years before being adopted by Return to Freedom Wild Horse Sanctuary in Lompoc, CA. Not all horses rounded up by the BLM are as lucky.
Over the past four decades the BLM has eradicated or moved to holding facilities more than 70 percent of the country’s wild horse population. (Photo: Bureau of Land Management – Utah)
The majority of captured equines remain stuck for years, if not for the rest of their lives, in cramped holding facilities that are quickly running out of space. As of July 2015 the facilities held 47,000 wild horses, and the BLM’s holding capacity is set at 50,929. Yet the agency is planning to remove another 2,739 wild horses and burros this year at a taxpayer cost of $78 million.
An example of an emergency holding facility for excess mustangs is a cattle feedlot in Scott City, Kansas. In 2014, a BLM contractor leased the feedlot, owned by Beef Belt LLC, to hold 1,900 mares. The horses were transported from pasture to corrals designed for fattening up cattle. Within the first few weeks of their arrival, at least 75 mares died. Mortality reports acquired from the BLM through the Freedom of Information Act show that as of June 2015, 143 more horses had died. The facility is closed to the public.