ROTHENBURGER: Shooting of wild horses is the latest sad chapter in their story

I later learned more about them when a Kamloops Daily News story about a roundup of some horses went viral.

Wild horses are no longer “culled” to reduce herds, but a bunch were captured by a contractor hired by the BC Ministry of Natural Resource Operations in 2011 and auctioned at Kamloops stockyards.

The government began such raids on Crown lands in 2006, using portable pens and trip gates. Knowing that so-called “kill buyers” would be looking at the auction for cheap horses (as little as $100 each) to send to slaughter for meat export, an animal rights group stepped in.

The story of the doomed horses spread. Spurred on by social media, it went up to the upper levels of the provincial government. A school in the Lower Mainland even held a writing contest to save the horses.

Unfortunately, five of the 11 mustangs caught were quickly sold at auction, almost certainly for meat.

The charity Critteraid managed to persuade the province to let them have a stallion and two pregnant mares. The stallion – who was named Atticus (after the character in the novel To Kill a Mockingbird) – had a gelding, the mares were successfully born and all were raised for adoption.

There are herds of wild horses throughout BC and elsewhere in North America. A herd has roamed the area north of the South Thompson River near Kamloops and has often been sighted near East Shuswap Road. There are other wild herds in the Chilcotin and elsewhere.

They are revered by those who love animals and the thought of horses galloping freely across the grasslands, unrestrained by mankind.

But there is another side. Many insist that the wild horses overgraze the land needed for domesticated horses and cattle. They say that while horse lovers talk about being part of the ecosystem, they actually break it down because their teeth are designed to cut grass short of the ground so weeds can invade.

They claim it is more humane to capture and sell or kill them than leave them to starve on overgrazed land, but the fate of horses that are slaughtered is heartbreaking. Because they are prey animals, they panic easily in unfriendly surroundings and are dragged into death pens and shot in the head with captive bolt guns.

Considering what horses do for us, we treat them the most cruelly. Whoever killed the 17 wild horses north of Walhachin put a lot of effort into it. Investigators said the horses were in two groups, one of six and one of 11, and spaced a considerable distance apart.

In its statement last week, the tribal council emphasized the importance of the deer herd. “Our traditional stories and laws of Secwèpemc teach us that the horse is a sacred animal that brings many lessons of healing to our people and symbolizes a powerful being of strength and freedom. The people of the Secwèpemc have a connection to all living things and have been taught that all animals should be treated with the utmost dignity and respect.”

It is significant that the Skeetchestn Band’s own comments referred to the “loss of wildlife”. Defenders of wild horses argue that they should be classified as wild animals, not farm animals. It’s partly a practical problem: the laws protecting wildlife are stricter than they are for the treatment of livestock.

If whoever shot the 17 horses is caught, they’ll likely only face animal cruelty fines. It’s not enough.

The origin of the Deadman Valley herd is hazy. Some of the horses may have been domesticated at one time and then eventually lost or abandoned by their owners. Another theory is that they descended from wild populations that lived here before colonization.

This is possible because the first horses were brought to North America by Spanish conquistadors in the late 15th century.

Whatever their origins, Deadman Valley horses deserve to be left alone to continue to roam free.

Mel Rothenburger is a former mayor of Kamloops, TNRD associate director, and retired newspaper editor. He is a regular contributor to CFJC Today, publishes opinion website, and is a recipient of the Jack Webster Foundation Lifetime Achievement Award. He can be reached at [email protected].

Editor’s Note: This opinion piece reflects the views of its author and does not necessarily represent the views of CFJC Today or Pattison Media.


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