Equine welfare groups in America have launched an internet appeal for urgent funds needed to save around 1,000 wild horses that are roaming an area in Elko, Nevada.

Earlier this month, the State of Nevada contacted Habitat for Horses, a Texas based non-profit equine rescue. They offered the charity the chance to adopt as many unclaimed horses as possible before sending the remaining horses to auction.

Habitat has been given until 5 February to find homes for around 980 horses, many of which are heavily pregnant mares. The majority are unhandled and have no registration papers. Because of the difficulty in re-homing wild horses, it is widely acknowledged that any not re-homed would be bought by slaughterhouses for meat export.

In response to this mammoth task, Habitat used the World Wide Web to launch the “Nevada 980 Project” appeal on its website www.habitatofhorses.org

Initial estimates put the cost of a rescue package at around $200,000, however this was significantly reduced with the confirmation of a holding site that saved on transportation costs.

Estimated costs for this project now stand at $20,000, which includes food, veterinary treatment, transport and a $50 state adoption fee per horse.

Jerry Finch, who is helping co-ordinate the project, said: “As far as I know this is the largest equine rescue mission ever undertaken. Our only tool has been the internet and we have been amazed by people’s response, which haspoured in from across the United States.”

Working in conjunction with 18 other rescue centres and volunteers, Habitat has so far managed to raise around $10,000 and secure homes for nearly 500 of the horses. Efforts are continuing in a bid to re-home the remainder – those considered to old or unsuitable for re-homing will hopefully be placed with sanctuaries or, as a last resort, humanely destroyed.

Esther Della Reese, development director for Habitat, said: “Until we became involved in this project, these horses were going to be sold for slaughter. Now they have been given a stay of execution – needless to say, there are a lot of tired volunteers who are very happy.”

For more information or to make a donation visit www.habitatofhorses.org.