The bad news is that 88 horses in the Bonanza area of eastern Utah have tested positive for a deadly disease and may ultimately be destroyed.
The good news, according to the Bureau of Land Management, is that wild horse specialists believe the disease has not spread beyond a 20-square-mile area overlapping portions of public land and the Uintah and Ouray-Ute Reservation."It is comforting to know where the disease is located, and as we move away from that area, we get zero positives," said Glenn Foreman, BLM spokesman for the agency's wild horse program.
The BLM has concluded its roundup in the Bonanza area, gathering 210 wild horses from public lands and another 51 free-roaming horses from Ute lands. Some 60 of the wild horses tested positive and 28 horses on Indian lands tested positive for equine infectious anemia.
The disease, which is transmitted by blood-sucking insects like mosquitoes and horse flies, kills about 30 percent of the infected animals and the remainder become carriers.
The disease is rare in the arid West. Of roughly 7,000 horses tested annually, only one to three typically test positive for the disease. Infected animals are destroyed.
However, a temporary restraining order issued by a Washington, D.C., judge has spared the lives of 12 foals that tested positive for the disease, at least until Monday when a hearing is scheduled. Animal-rights advocates argue the foals may be carrying antibodies passed on to them by their mothers and may not actually be infected.
The BLM is working with the Humane Society of the United States to find a research institution willing to take the foals. Pending that agreement, the BLM has also decided to temporarily spare the lives of the infected mother horses.
"It's the best approach for the youngest foals," Foreman said. "It causes less stress . . . and will increase the likelihood the foals will survive."
Veterinarians and BLM wild horse officials are now examining the infected foals that are three or four months old to determine whether the infected mothers should be destroyed now. They say the foals will stand a much better chance of survival if they are in a disease-free environment.
Of the 60 wild horses, 20 have been destroyed and the BLM is now awaiting an order from state veterinarian Mike Marshall to destroy an additional 16 horses. The 28 infected horses on the Ute reservation will be sent to Texas where they will be slaughtered. (Wild horses on public lands cannot be sent to slaughter.)
The horses that tested negative for the disease will be kept in quarantine for at least 45 days where they will be repeatedly tested for the disease. They will also receive inoculations for other diseases, treatment for worms and care for their hooves.
"We have a wild horse, long-term care team on site to ensure the healthy horses stay healthy," Foreman said. "We do not want to have to do this (massive roundups) again. We've already spent close to a half million dollars - a good investment, but still a lot of money."
Virtually all of the infected animals in the Bonanza area came from an area called East Bench, located along the boundary between the Ute reservation on the west and public lands to the east. Animals gathered farther to the east were disease free.
The BLM will meet with Marshall to discuss possible roundups of an additional 250 or so wild horses in the Agency Draw area, which is farther away from the Bonanza area. If the pattern of disease holds true, those horses should be free of disease, Foreman said.