CAÑON CITY, Colo. — The Bureau of Land Management reported the total for wild horse deaths at a federal facility in Cañon City has reached 85 in just a matter of days on Wednesday. Officials at BLM are attributing these deaths to an illness that has broken out among the herd.

BLM says it gathers wild horses and burros in an effort to move them off public lands.

Advocates for wild horses say the escalating number of deaths is alarming.

“The argument is that there’s an overpopulation of wild horses,” said Scott Wilson, a member of the Board of Directors of the American Wild Horse Campaign.

Helicopter rounds up wild horses into a pen for transportation. Credit: Bureau of Land Management

BLM says reducing the horse population helps balance out the environment so they don’t overgraze the the native grasslands.

“Eventually, they will completely consume their local ecosystem,” said BLM Director of Communications Steven Hall.

However, removing wild horses from their homes has become a highly debated topic.

“Our argument would be; don’t take the horses off their land. Take the sheep and the cattle off. They’re unfairly competing,” Wilson said.

As of Wednesday, more than 80 horses have died at a Cañon City facility, which houses 2,550 wild horses, which AWHC, said adds to the controversy.

“It’s just sheer evidence that cramming these horses into confined holding facilities is putting them in harm’s way,” Wilson said.

Wild horses graze on public lands in Utah. Credit: Bureau of Land Management

BLM said investigations into the horses’ death are underway.

“They came from a very challenging landscape,” Hall said. “It’s actually an area the BLM has determined is not suitable for wild horses and a lot of those horses were gathered… which means these horses, when they came into our care, oftentimes had health issues.”

But Wilson said he thought the timeline was suspicious.

“These dead horses were rounded up a year ago from west Douglas at HMA. They came healthy. And something has happened at Cañon City to make them sick,” he said.

As veterinarians look into the possibility that a disease is taking the lives of these wild horses, advocates for the animals say they are hoping to put a stop to the next round-up, which would add about a thousand more horses to the Cañon City facility.

“The sort of veracity that this disease is… working its way through this population of horses is absolutely frightening. Clearly, something is going wrong at Canon City, so we can’t keep piling more horses into that broken system,” Wilson said.

Timeline: Mysterious wild horse deaths in Colorado

Here is a timeline of the outbreak, according to the Bureau of Land Management:

  • April 23: Outbreak begins
  • April 25: 57 fatalities
  • April 26: 67 fatalities
  • April 27: 85 fatalities