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Training starts for wild horse contraception

Members of the Wild Horses of Alberta Society will be trained on horse contraception in July in the hope that the province will approve the method to control the wild horse population by this fall.

The Feral Horse Advisory Committee, which is composed of trappers and ranchers, as well as horse, animal welfare, veterinarian and conservation organizations, has yet to approve the program.

Wild Horses of Alberta Society (WHOAS) sits on the committee and WHOAS president Bob Henderson said he is optimistic a decision will be made next month.

“Hopefully we can show them our way of doing things is a much more humane way and positive way, and a much more effective way of controlling population for the benefit of all the stakeholders and other users of the range, including the other wildlife,” Henderson said.

Alberta currently captures wild horses to reduce numbers. They are either slaughtered or taken in by horse owners and ranchers for personal, work or recreational use.

WHOAS members are attending a three-day training session in Montana in mid-July that would qualify them to use the contraception vaccine.

They propose that 18 mature mares would be selected for injection through darts that will prevent them from getting pregnant for three years.

“The prime time to be darting them would be September and October,” Henderson said.

He said contraception is used in the U.S. to control its wild horses as well as in Germany. Zoos also use it to regulate breeding in ungulate populations.

If necessary, contraception could be augmented with the capture of some younger horses to be adopted out, he said.

“If you get rid of the old stallion and lead mare, then they’ll breed like crazy. By taking the youngsters, you leave the horse herd structure in place and that helps population control.”

WHOAS also argues there shouldn’t be a general capture this year.

“The winter was really, really hard on the horses. When they counted the horses in March, they counted 880.”

There’s few yearlings in the West Country wild horse population. Many mares aborted, with some mares lost due to complications when they tried to give birth, he said.

“It’s a sad time, but it’s part of nature.”

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