RENO, Nev. (AP) — Wild horse advocates called for a federal investigation Wednesday into an emergency mustang roundup in southern Nevada where government officials say more than two dozen animals had to be euthanized due to severe starvation.
U.S. Bureau of Land Management officials say they gathered 201 horses 30 miles west of Las Vegas last week because of extreme drought conditions and a lack of forage.
Twenty-eight were killed because of their "poor or extremely emaciated body condition" after a veterinarian for the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service determined they had a "poor prognosis for recovery or improvement," acting BLM State Director John Ruhs said.
Anne Novak, executive director of the California-based Protect Mustangs, said the roundup was "supposed to save wild horses, not kill them."
"These federally protected wild horses were living on the range not dropping dead," Novak said in making a formal request for the Interior Department's inspector general to investigate whether the mustangs were killed primarily to save the BLM money. "Killing them without giving them a chance at recovery is a heinous use of tax dollars."
Steven Futrowsky, a senior investigator for the Office of Inspector General, confirmed that he received the complaint Wednesday and was initiating the review process, which he said would take several weeks. He said in an email to The Associated Press that he could not immediately comment further.
The roundup of the Cold Creek herd began Aug. 29, with the horses taken to holding pens.. BLM suspended the roundup on Sept. 3, the same day 11 horses were euthanized. One had been killed the day before, and 16 additional animals were put down the day after.
Ruhs said the agency resumed the gather Wednesday because it had identified "more horses that are in danger of starving" in the Wheeler Pass Herd Management Area
"These animals are in the same very poor condition as the horses we gathered last week," he said.
BLM spokeswoman Brenda Beasley said the roundup was necessary to "alleviate the suffering of the horses," protect range resources and reduce competition for scarce water and forage.
The entire herd showed signs of severe starvation evident by "lethargy, signs of depression and slow response to stimuli," Beasley said. She said horses were traveling 10 miles or more to access water and food, and had resorted to eating desert shrub species and Joshua Tree bark, which has little or no nutritional value.
Novak said she wants to know whether poor management of the horses resulted in their death, "or was the BLM just too lazy to give them the care they needed?" She said volunteers and horse rescue specialists would have helped nurse the animals back to health so they could be offered for adoption.
"Was euthanasia chosen for convenience and the bottom line, pure and simple?" Novak wrote in a letter Wednesday to the inspector general. "Did they look at the feed and labor involved vs. adoptability and take the cheap and easy way out?"