Police and wildlife officers are investigating the shooting deaths on Tuesday of three wild horses near the Red Deer River Ranger Station, about 40 km southwest of Sundre.
Bob and Doreen Henderson, founders of the Wild Horses of Alberta Society, went out for a look after getting a call from area residents who had found two horses dead and one dying at about 6 p.m.
One of the horses, a young stallion, was still alive when the discovery was made, Bob Henderson said on Wednesday. The man who found the horses went home to get a rifle to end the horse’s suffering but it had died by the time he got back.
Also killed were a yearling and a mature mare that had partially delivered a new foal.
When they went back on Wednesday morning, the Hendersons discovered another young horse whinnying and searching among the bodies.
“That didn’t help my heart,” said Bob Henderson, assuming that the surviving filly was split from the rest of the band and had not figured out why the dead horses were not getting up or where she should go. He believes the filly to be an offspring of the dead mare.
The horses had been part of a larger herd that must have fled when the carnage began, said Henderson, who is familiar with the various herds of horses that roam the area.
A former Calgary police officer, he said the Criminal Code includes charges that can be laid for the unlawful shooting of an animal.
However, he does not believe the Alberta government is interested, in general, in protecting the wild herds now roaming the foothills.
“Our government still sees them as feral and invasive, and I think that just feeds into this thing that they can get away with it if they shoot these things. To me, the government attitude toward the horses is one of contempt,” he said.
Cpl. Dave Heaslip from the RCMP’s livestock investigation unit said police and wildlife officers will look for bullets at the scene in hope of tracking down a suspect. Officers from the Sundre detachment are working with fish and wildlife officers, said Heaslip.
Investigators hope that any similar discoveries will be reported as soon as possible, which increases the possibility of finding suspects, he said.
Henderson said Tuesday’s grisly discovery put a damper on high spirits he and fellow volunteers had been feeling after the weekend.
A group of volunteers had been called to liberate 15 wild horses that had wandered into a leased area. The leaseholder had told the wild horse society that he wanted them removed and kept out or they would be rounded up.
The volunteers got all of the horses out of the lease during the April 25 weekend, and then fixed the fences and gates to make sure they wouldn’t get back in.