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HELPER — Federal agents impounded 47 Bureau of Land Management horses Friday at the Port of Entry in Helper, preventing the likelihood of the animals being hauled by truck for slaughter in Mexico, officials said.
Gus Warr, the Utah director of the BLM's Wild Horse and Burro program, said the horses were safely delivered to the agency's center in Herriman while the investigation continues.
There were a number of red flags that went up in the beginning and it remains an active investigation with our agency, the FBI, state agencies and the U.S. Attorney's Office.
–Gus Warr, BLM
"There were a number of red flags that went up in the beginning and it remains an active investigation with our agency, the FBI, state agencies and the U.S. Attorney's Office," Warr said.
Multiple people are the target of the investigation, which spreads to Willard where some of the animals were held before being stopped in Carbon County, Warr said.
The sale of the animals occurred on paper at the Herriman facility but involved animals in the agency's long-term holding pasture in Oklahoma.
Unlike the bureau's adoption program, these animals are direct-sold to buyers under an agreement that includes an intent clause that prohibits subsequent sale for slaughter, Warr said. The horses are 11 years or older and may be bought for use as brood mares, for private equestrian pleasure or simply put out to pasture by the purchaser.
The last U.S. slaughterhouse for horse meat intended for human consumption closed in 2007 under a ban that went into effect that year. The prohibition has not stopped wholesale shipments of live animals to either Canada or Mexico where they are slaughtered for human consumption — mostly to supply overseas markets.
Warr said the BLM is keenly aware of the demand outside of the United States and watches for so-called "kill-buyers" who purchase the horses for such a destiny.
"The BLM is trying to be proactively ahead of the game, which is what happened here," he said.
But the owner of the truck that was hauling the horses said late Friday that her husband was only helping out a friend by allowing the horses to stay on their property, the DK Ranch in Willard.
KSL News is not naming the woman or her husband because the investigation is ongoing and no arrests have been made.
"We are known for buying slaughter horses," she said, "but it was just our truck that was being used."
She said the animals were bound for Texas, but were not going to be slaughtered, adding that the type of truck they were being hauled in was not a slaughter-style truck.
But Warr said the paper trail of where the animals were headed did not match up to the reality of where they were impounded — leading his agency to believe they were intended for slaughter.
"Our primary concern at this point is that they were not going where they were supposed to," Warr said.