Drought kills US wild horses

  • American wild horses are dying from a lack of water and forage as an extreme drought hits Utah

    More than 75 wild horses in Utah, USA, have died from dehydration during the past month as the state continues to suffer an extreme drought.

    The ongoing lack of rain has seen many of the horse’s usual waterholes dry up completely and forage is extremely limited. This is the fourth year running that Utah has suffered drought.

    The 52-strong “King Top” herd, which relied on a water source at Ecks Knoll, was completely wiped out at the beginning of July when its 20,000-gallon water trough ran dry.

    A further 25 horses of the “North Hills” herd were found dead two weeks earlier, after vandalism of a section of fencing allowed the horses to stray into unknown territory. It is believed the horses were unable to find their way out of the fenced area and died of dehydration.

    Emergency action

    The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) in Utah, which is responsible for the wild horses’ welfare, has been taking emergency action to try to minimise the impact of the drought on the remaining 3,600 wild horses living in 22 different herds across the state.

    It has been transporting water to a number of areas where the springs have dried up, as well as using helicopters to move herds to areas with better grazing and water. Helicopters have also been used to monitor the condition of the herds.

    Around 550 horses are to be removed from the worst affected grazing lands.

    “Areas that normally have knee-high grass are supporting plants which are only 1-2ins high,” says Gus Warr, Utah Wild Horse and Burro manager. “Wild horse numbers will have to be reduced in these areas to allow the remaining horses and wildlife a better chance of survival.”

    The gathered horses will be taken to BLM wild horse centres, where they will receive care and medical treatment before being offered for public adoption in the future.

    We are doing everything possible to prevent losing any horses, but giving the millions of acres of public land we manage in Utah, we may lose some animals to the drought,” says Gus.

    Fighting for survival

    The lack of water and grazing throughout the drought-stricken states is forcing the horses to travel long distances to try and find water and grazing. Several horses in Wyoming have died after being struck by motorists as herds search for forage and water.

    “Shorter water supplies due to the drought are changing wild horse grazing patterns,” says Kevin Lloyd, a wild horse management specialist for the BLM field office in Rock Springs.

    “Many of these wild horses are confused by being in new areas and are under considerable stress from surviving the sweltering temperatures out on the range.”

    The next two months will be critical for the horses, which would normally be building up fat reserves to survive the winter at this time.

    To find out more about wild horses in the US visit www.wildhorseandburro.blm.gov

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