CAÑON CITY, Colo. — A spokesperson for the Colorado Department of Agriculture said Friday that the number of horses that have succumbed to equine influenza at a federal facility managed by the Bureau of Land Management in Cañon City has reached 94.
According to that spokesperson, equine influenza is “usually not deadly,” and the affects of the virus are more so determined by the herd and its status. Altogether, she said, the facility houses 2,184 horses. She noted the horses have been segragated and that “no mortality has occurred in the large group.”
It is unclear whether the horses suffering severe effects were grouped, at any point, with horses from other areas, though BLM told FOX21 that the agency “commonly reduces mingling of horses from different areas when possible.”
“It’s just sheer evidence that cramming these horses into confined holding facilities is putting them in harm’s way,” Scott Wilson, a member of the Board of Directors of the American Wild Horse Campaign, told FOX21 News earlier this week.
But according to the BLM’s website, their wild horse and burro holding facility can house up to 3,000 horses.
CDA noted that the horses “seeing severe effects” were all brought to Cañon City from the West Douglas Roundup Area.
BLM Director of Communications Steven Hall said that happened in 2021 from an area that was “already unsuitable for wild horses.” The BLM websites say the emergency gather happened after its White River Field Office “determined that the West Douglas Herd Area and other areas outside the Piceance-East Douglas Herd Management Area are not to be managed for wild horses because of the complex terrain and lack of summer range.”
The BLM’s write-up of this operation said “The Appropriate Management Level for the West Douglas Herd Area is zero wild horses.” At the time, they said, about 450 horses were living there.
The state department of agriculture said it sent a veterinarian down to the facility earlier this week after BLM reported horses were getting sick. Additionally, a spokesperson said, their team made sure the facility was meeting biosecurity recommendations, which means making sure surfaces are clean and that people handling the horses are changing clothes and washing hands properly, to help curb the spread of the illness.
BLM also administers vaccinations to wild horses and, according to its own protocols, expects that “the vaccines for adult horses and burros are administered and boostered as soon as possible after the animals arrive at a corral facility.”
The West Douglas horses were taken to Cañon City in August of 2021.
“The West Douglas horses received a first round of vaccine recently. BLM is reviewing the vaccination sechedule for these horses as well as working with a team of experts to determine what impact vaccinations may or may not have contributed,” Hall wrote in an email exchange with FOX21.
The American Wild Horse Campaign has been railing against the holding facility entirely.
“Outbreaks of contagious diseases and infections are the direct result of the BLM’s inhumane mass roundups, as once formerly wild horses are confined with thousands of others in holding pens,” said Executive Director Suzanne Roy through a press release sent Friday. “Taking horses out of the wild and into a domestic environment requires vaccinations; it appears that the BLM fell short in its care of and responsibility for these federally-protected animals.”
CDA said its animal health experts believe this outbreak is confined to the BLM facility. They say the situation is primarily being handled by BLM with support from their department as well as the US Department of Agriculture.
A BLM spokesperson told FOX21 another update will be given at 3 p.m. on Friday.