MEDIA RELEASE: U.S. Forest Service Urged to Call Off Wild Horse Adoption/Sale Event

MEDIA RELEASE: U.S. Forest Service Urged to Call Off Wild Horse Adoption/Sale Event

ALTURAS, CA (November 12, 2018) - In Defense of Animals is urging the United States Forest Service to call off an adoption and sale of wild horses planned for Friday and Saturday. The event will risk spreading a highly contagious infection which is present in the mustang herd. One District Attorney, two federal lawsuits, six animal organizations, and over 8,000 members of the public are opposing the controversial plans proposed for the Devil’s Garden wild horses over the next few months.

“We urge the U.S. Forest Service to immediately call off its upcoming adoption and sale, and quarantine sick and at-risk horses,” said In Defense of Animals President, Marilyn Kroplick M.D. “This ill-advised public event risks spreading a highly contagious disease.

Pigeon fever is an exasperating disease which causes abscesses and swelling, and has been found in the herd of 932 mustangs removed from the Devil’s Garden Wild Horse Territory in the Modoc National Forest.

The disease could be spreading between horses who are now packed into the Double Devil Wild Horse Corrals in Alturas, California, without quarantine. The Forest Service plans to dispatch many of the horses on November 16 and 17 via adoption or sale to the public, potentially allowing the spread of this bacterial infection to domestic horses. 

Multiple animal organizations are suing the Forest Service for its unethical and potentially illegal plans to sell many of the horses “without limitations,” which makes an easy road for slaughter buyers. Horses as young as eight years old who are not purchased during the initial 60 day sales period will be sold for $1 without restrictions, attracting buyers who sell horses on for meat.

Unlimited horse sales violate California law, and the Forest Service’s sales have attracted the ire of California Attorney General Xavier Becerra. Becerra called mustang slaughter “not only atrocious, but unlawful” in a recent letter to U.S. Department of Agriculture Secretary, Sonny Perdue, and U.S. Forest Service Chief, Vicki Christiansen. The Attorney General urged the pair to reverse their decision allowing the U.S. Forest Service to offer California’s wild horses for sale without restriction, stating, “Under your watch, California horses should not be sent to slaughter in violation of state law.”

Horses with pigeon fever can usually overcome the ailment naturally, but should be quarantined to prevent the spread of the disease. Despite this, the Forest Service killed one horse with a confirmed case of the disease and also six others who were “showing symptoms.”

“The Forest Service killed seven horses for an entirely curable disease and will cut short even more lives with a risky mass sale,” added Dr. Kroplick. “We beg the Forest Service to spare these horses from its illegal and potentially lethal sale, and save taxpayer money by using safe and reliable PZP fertility control.”

Many horses with the illness are asymptomatic, and the incubation period is between one and four weeks, meaning that many more rounded-up mustangs may currently be carrying the infection to pass on to other horses.

The Forest Service has only just finished its mass removal of almost one thousand horses from the Modoc National Forest and is rushing to put many of them up for sale barely a week later. Males have been hastily castrated, increasing their risk of contracting pigeon fever due to the wound from the procedure.

Even though the disease is usually not life-threatening, it is highly contagious. UC Davis-recommended protocols for horses with pigeon fever include quarantine for new horses, isolation of infected horses, controlling fly populations and use of fly repellents, precautions to prevent transmission via skin or clothing, preventing the use of the same items between horses, and establishing a regular manure management and sanitation program. The crowded conditions at the Double Devil Corrals are not conducive to these precautions. 

Pigeon fever could be spread far and wide from this adoption event through contact with Devil’s Garden horses who will be shipped away from their homes as they are sold, infecting domestic horses. Visitors to the sale can take the bacteria home on their boots and spread it to their own herd. The Forest Service is not only at risk of causing a disease outbreak but also a lawsuit outbreak by knowingly holding a public sale of horses exposed to pigeon fever. 

In Defense of Animals is calling on the Forest Service first to quarantine the whole Modoc Forest Service Double Devil Corral facility in Alturas because of the pigeon fever outbreak, and second to postpone the adoption event scheduled for Friday and Saturday for 45 days, or until all horses have been cleared of the possibility of infection. 

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