A new birth control program is said to be a real game-changer in a polarizing debate about what to do with Alberta’s wild horses.
The pilot program is being used by the province to manage the feral horse population in areas west of Sundre.
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Some have insisted the Eastern Slopes couldn’t support the horses while others begged for the animals to be left alone.
“You can’t just let 1,000 large grazers wander aimlessly through the ecosystem haphazardly and say, Leave them alone, they’ll look after themselves.’ They won’t,” Marry Bates, a retired fish and wildlife warden, said.
In the past, the horses have been rounded up by those with permits issued by the province. Some were then adopted out while others were auctioned off.
“If you’re against horse processing – that’s your right – but instead of throwing rocks, take that energy and build some alternatives,” rancher Bryn Thiessen said.
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As a compromise, the province agreed to allow the Wild Horses of Alberta Society (WHOAS) to try a pilot birth control program.
“We have dart guns – they are [carbon dioxide] projectiles. The dart is filled with the vaccine. Once we’ve identified a mare that we want to do, we put it into the gun and once we get close enough to the mare… we fire the dart,” Bob Henderson, the president of the society, said.
So far, the group has given 73 mares the contraceptive vaccine. Some say that’s too many.
“That’s going to have a pretty severe impact on the foals next year,” Darrell Glover with Help Alberta Wildies said. “The government still has not come up with what number is a sustainable number on the Eastern Slopes. I think it’s a bit irresponsible to start reducing the numbers drastically at this point until we come up with that number.”
“Is that too many? We say no it isn’t,” Henderson said. “This is a research program. We have to prove it can work right now.”
The contraceptive wears off after a number of years.
It’s hoped the five-year program will prove the wild horse population can be sustainable.
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Alberta Environment and Parks said it’s still unclear whether the program could be a viable alternative to additional culls in the future.
“After the pre-determined five years, the program will be assessed to see if it can be implemented over a larger zone,” spokesperson Jamie Hanlon said.
While the program is supported by the province, it is entirely run by WHOAS. The charity has raised it’s own money to facilitate the vaccinations.
WHOAS estimates it costs about $1,600 per horse.