The Calgary Journal
The Calgary Journal

The Wild Horses of Alberta Society tries to protect herds after recent cull announcement

ThumbHorses2Alberta has roughly 880 wild horses left. The Wild Horses of Alberta Society is trying to save them from the slaughterhouse — a mission that takes on new urgency following the announcement of this year's cull by the province.

The horses roam in the Alberta Foothills, located an hour or so drive from Calgary. To control the herd, the province carries out culls roughly once a year.

Culls typically result in wild animals being removed from their habitat for environmental sustainability. In other words, the horses present a problem because there are more of them than the ground can sustain. Some of the animals are then sold at auction, with some ending up at the slaughterhouse.

The ministry announced in February plans to capture 50 to 60 horses in the Ghost area just south of Sundre.

"We are not trying to take them off the landscape, we are just trying to bring the numbers of the herd down to a more range friendly number," ministry spokesperson Duncan MacDonnell explained.

"We don't have that number but we know that it is less than it is now."HorsesFoals are preferable for capture because they are more likely to be successfully adopted.

Photo courtesy of Bob Henderson

The Wild Horses of Alberta Society, formed in 2001, is trying to protect the horses.

Bob Henderson, the society's president, says the society now has a membership of roughly 700 people.

"The objective of the society is that the wild horses here in the province of Alberta are treated humanely," said Henderson.

"Our main goal is to have them protected and save the wild horses from a lot of the atrocities that have occurred in the past."

Last year, the society signed a five-year agreement with the Alberta government for a pilot project that included an adoption and a contraceptive program for horses.

The contraceptive program means healthy mares in the herd are given the drug known as PZP (porcine zona pellucida) to try to bring down the numbers. The drug will help to stop pregnancy by preventing the fertilized egg by implanting itself in the walls of the uterus.

Larry Semchuk, a member of the society and a wildlife photographer said, "This has been done in a lot of areas, like the United States, where they have a similar problem. We feel like it is a worthwhile endeavour so that the foals aren't born and carted off to the slaughterhouse."

However, a few problems stand in the way of the project.

"We feel like it is a worthwhile endeavour so that the foals aren't born and carted off to the slaughterhouse."

-Larry Semchuk, member of the Wild Horses of Alberta Society
"We have seen some results from the States where it's been used and it is not really that effective but we are going to give it five years and see what the results are here and see if it's a viable way to go," MacDonnell said.

There are also concerns about the adoption program. Usually, horses under the age of two are adoptable as they are more likely to adapt to people. The older horses are not used to being stabled and are harder to tame.

The Ghost cull will focus on trying to capture only younger horses so that the majority will be adopted. Those that don't get adopted will go to public auction where often buyers from slaughterhouses frequent.

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Correction: An earlier version of this story suggested the Wild Horses of Alberta Society was the only agency trying to protect wild horses from being purchased for slaughter. A reader brought to our attention other organizations involved in protecting wild horses. The Calgary Journal regrets the error.