Photo of Grey Mare taken at Return to Freedom's San Luis Obispo, Calif., satellite sanctuary by Ondrea Hidley.
Despite strong public opposition to surgical sterilization of federally protected wild mares and burro jennies -- and despite Congress specifically calling for the use of safe, proven and humane methods of curbing wild horse population growth -- the Bureau of Land Management continues to squander tax dollars in its pursuit of sterilization.
Please join us in calling on lawmakers to oppose surgeries that are dangerous, unproven, costly and unnecessary.
We are particularly concerned about BLM’s pursuit of surgical methods like ovariectomy via colpotomy, the surgical removal of both ovaries through incision in the vaginal canal. It comes with potential complications including hemorrhage, shock, post-operative colic, peritonitis, intra-abdominal adhesions, accidental trauma to intestine or other soft tissues, abscessation or hematoma formation at the surgery site, and seroma formation at or dehiscence of incisional closures.
The procedure has been noted to be generally painful with a high frequency of perioperative complications – some of which can be life-threatening. Furthermore, care requirements typically followed to lower such complication rates, such as tying the mare for several days post-procedure to prevent eventration through the incision, will not be feasible in free-ranging, wild mares. As such, fatality rates may be higher than what has been observed in domestic mares.
Ovariectomy via colpotomy can result in serious complications specific to pregnant mares. Effects of ovary removal on a pregnancy at 90-120 days are unpredictable and can include the reabsorption or abortion of the foal. Performing the procedure on mares late in gestation can be challenging due to lack of access to the ovaries. As many mares gathered from Herd Management Areas (HMAs) are pregnant when gathered, it makes little sense to pursue a tool that is inhumane and impractical in these on-range circumstances.
In addition to the high complication rates associated with the ovariectomy via colpotomy procedure, there are few board-certified equine veterinarian surgeons trained in the procedure on domestic, let alone wild, mares. Furthermore, in the past six years, two universities have pulled their support for this research, and the BLM has been unable to secure additional support from the academic community.
Instead of pouring resources into the research of an inhumane, high-risk, inviable, and unsupported procedure, the BLM should focus on increased implementation of currently available, safe and humane fertility control. The Porcine Zona Pellucida (PZP) immunocontraceptive has a long history of field testing and efficacy on wild horse populations. The BLM currently uses PZP to manage wild horse populations on several HMAs and should continue this work by identifying other HMAs where ground darting programs can be used to stabilize and lower population growth rates. In addition to PZP, two long-acting contraceptives, PZP-227 and the USDA vaccine GonaConTM8, are available now and have been shown to produce 5-7 years of reduced fertility.
Return to Freedom remains strongly opposed to BLM’s research into surgical sterilization. We firmly believe that the agency must implement a large-scale program using currently available, proven and safe immunocontraception. The BLM should focus its efforts on scaling up the use of fertility control as a part of a long-term management plan in order to be able to manage wild horse and burro populations humanely and for the long-term.