Horse Health

National Park Service also managing horses for extinction

From the article below, it seems that the National Park Service (an agency under the U.S. Dept. of the Interior), is touting the use of the EXPERIMENTAL, RESTRICTED-USE PESTICIDE (aka fertility control drug) GonaCon on the “feral” horses in the Theodore Roosevelt National Park.

On the website for the National Park Service’s “feral” horses for Theodore Roosevelt National Park, it states there is “now a herd of 70-110 animals.”  (THIS IS ALREADY A NON-VIABLE HERD.)

More disturbing is that Blake McCann, the park’s wildlife biologist, gives a different number of horses to the media: “plans to conduct a corral trap this year to start learning how and to manage the 142 wild horses currently in the park, a number well above the 40 to 90 population considered ideal.”  

142 horses instead of 70-110?  Did stallions give birth?

More importantly, a National Park Service wildlife biologist states that a population of 40-90  (a non-viable herd) is considered ideal.  From the article below, he seems to be more worried about a “viable tool” than about a viable herd.

GonaCon didn’t work the first time the National Park Service tried it in 2009, so they re-vaccinated the same 28 mares with it again last year. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) granted regulatory approval of the experimental RESTRICTED-USE PESTICIDE GonaCon for use on wild and feral horses and burros in Feb. 2013.  So the National Park Service was testing a pesticide on “feral” horses 4 years before there was even EPA regulatory approval.

The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) has also used GonaCon on wild horses.

They got a permit, BUT Department of the Interior agencies are EXPERIMENTING ON FERAL and WILD HORSES AND BURROS, with little regard for variability or viability.  Plain and simple.

And how were the “volunteers” able to determine that stool samples from those 28 mares weren’t from other horses?

And, the debate about the designation of horses and burros as “feral” versus “wild” also continues.  –  Debbie Coffey


Park’s wild horses an experiment in birth control

By Lauren Donovan Bismarck Tribune

548b0207ee9fd.image (photo by Lauren Donovan, Bismark Tribune)

One of the wild horses in Theodore Roosevelt National Park, along with a few others back in the juniper trees, found refuge and forage in the public campground, which is quiet this time of year.

THEODORE ROOSEVELT NATIONAL PARK – Dan Baker is not like an expectant dad waiting to find out if it’s a boy or a girl. He’s the opposite, hoping to hear that all the pregnancy tests come back negative.

Baker, a research biologist at Colorado State University’s animal reproduction and biotechnology laboratory, is the man in charge of an experimental contraception program in the wild horse herd at Theodore Roosevelt National Park.

There is hope that Baker’s work is productive — not reproductive.

Waiting for results

Within a month, he’ll know if he’s onto something that will have implications far beyond this singular herd in this one park — or if he’s back to square one.

The samples are in, and tests will be run soon. He hesitates to even guess at the results.

“It’s totally unknown. It could be anything between no effects all the way to permanent sterilization. This question has never been answered,” Baker said.

If his experiment works, it could be a new way to control the park’s constantly expanding wild horse herd and possibly the thousands of wild horses on Bureau of Land Management land. The method also could have uses in the control of unmanaged wild dog populations in Third World countries, or simply to suppress fertility in domestic horses, dogs and cats.

Badlands lab

Baker’s work in what he calls a perfect — not to mention beautiful — outdoors laboratory dates back to 2009.

“It’s such a great natural lab out there. The area the horses are confined in is large, but not too large. It’s great landscape, and we can find them most of the time,” he said.

In 2009, during the park’s scheduled wild horse roundup and herd reduction, Baker vaccinated 28 wild horses with GonaCon, a vaccine that has been used to suppress pregnancy in captive animals, not free-roaming wild ones such as those in the park.

The results were poor. Half the vaccinated mares became pregnant and, within three years, they all did.

What they’ve since learned is that, even though the park’s wild horses are in excellent physical condition, with good forage, they carry a big parasite load, which may have prevented the kind of antibody response needed to suppress pregnancy.

“Real world horses get injured, or have fence cuts, and their immune systems go toward those things rather than suppressing the hormones that control reproduction,” Baker said.

Last year, the park conducted another wild horse roundup and that’s when Baker’s research took a step further. The same 28 mares were revaccinated to learn whether a second booster of the same drug would achieve a higher antibody response and improve contraception.

Last month, volunteers collected fecal samples dropped on park ground by as many of the 28 vaccinated mares as could be located.

By measuring the feces for estradiol, a hormone excreted by a fetus, Baker’s lab team will soon know if the revaccination was successful.

“As the fetus matures, the concentration of estradiol gets higher and higher. If it’s 10 (nanograms per gram), they’re not pregnant. If it’s 100, they are. In a couple of weeks, after we’ve looked, if everything’s really high, the study’s over,” Baker said.

The proof will be in the lab, but the mares will also be observed in the spring to verify the actual foaling rate.

Park waiting, too

Blake McCann is the park’s wildlife biologist, a man who prizes science and wildlife equally.

McCann’s hopeful the revaccination works, too, but for reasons that have more to do with the horses, than the science itself.

He’d like to see the park bring to an end the longstanding practice of controlling the wild horse population with controversial helicopter-driven roundups and transport to public livestock sales barns. Instead, if the revaccination controls pregnancy by even 50 percent, McCann said becomes more feasible to also lure the wild horses into a makeshift corral in their own environment and remove small select numbers for sale right there.

That practice would be much less traumatic all around for humans and horses, he said. He plans to conduct a corral trap this year to start learning how and to manage the 142 wild horses currently in the park, a number well above the 40 to 90 population considered ideal.

Some doses of the second vaccine were delivered by dart, which was acceptable for the experiment.

“For research, yes, but to use that as a management tool, we would have to go into an environmental impact statement. Darting animals is not part of our management plan,” McCann said.

Whether through contraception or smaller removals from the temporary corrals, McCann said he does not want to see wild horse numbers return to the all-time high of 200 that were there last year when 103 were culled and sold at Wishek Livestock.

“I don’t want to get to 200 again and do another helicopter roundup. With the corral trapping, we can remove a dozen or so every year and get the young mares out before they become reproductively active,” he said.

That said, McCann said he’s hoping Baker’s work is productive, not reproductive, as it were.

“I would like to see the vaccine be a viable tool. We always have to be adaptable as a situation unfolds. I’m hopeful it’s effective,” he said.


27 replies »

  1. I wish we could get some horse advocates who are doing studies about birth control to be able to work with theses people who don’t really care about the horses. No one who takes animals on as a science project and isn’t interested in the horses outcome should be doing this. Dan Baker should stay in the lab, and check the work. These horses need to have someone who respects their presence as part of the park, and just wants to keep them at a manageable number, not play God with pesticides and horses lives.

    Liked by 1 person

    • When I read this it seems Blake McCann intends just that, to prevent helicopter roundups and darting by occasional lower-stress trapping and removals. These horses are highly sought after when put up for sale, so before passing judgement on Mr. McCann I’d like to know more about his calculations.

      I agree the given desired herd numbers are below genetic viability, but it would be useful to see how they arrived at this number. It has to be based on available forage in the Park (which as far as I know has no cattle) so it would be a service to all readers to understand his calculations. It doesn’t serve the horses or the public well to encourage numbers to increase above what the (fenced) land can manage for the long haul, or to vilify someone who seems to be intent on keeping horses as a viable presence in the park.

      [FYII have no affiliations with anyone in the park or this article]

      Liked by 1 person

      • Most of the vilifying done here is justified when wild horses and burros are being driven to extinction. Giving fertility control to a barely viable herd is not a good plan, no matter how these agencies try to justify it.

        Liked by 1 person

      • Deb, I agree with you but here’s McCann’s own words from the article: “Darting animals is not part of our management plan,” McCann said.


    • I am a member of the North Dakota Badlands Horse group that advocates for the wild horses in TRNP. These horses do have people advocating, promoting and documenting these horses…so much in fact that when registered with us you will receive a 5 generation pedigree! This birth control study is going on so that there will never have to be a large scale round up again….I would give both Blake and Dan a pat on the back for trying to do right! I respect your opinion but you are missing alot of the facts.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. The “minimum” number of wild horses is between 150-200 breeding age animals to sustain a genetically viable population. The overall health and well-being of this herd is at risk if the population is reduced below that number and especially with the additional practice of application of invasive fertility controls. The proposed action does not manage the herd as a self-sustaining population, and will set them up for genetic failure.
    Making decisions to apply a fertility drug to the herd’s mares would put the horse herd in danger of a die-off if any natural or manmade disaster struck the herd management area – be it wild fire or an extreme winter or mass predation or other. The previous roundups coupled with the use of PZP (chemical contraception) will take this small herd of recently thriving wild horses down to a small breeding core and the extensive fertility control plan will amplify this management toward extinction. We will now have a herd that is not safe on its own range. They have no need of this interference and this dangerously low reproductive rate could be and likely will be catastrophic.

    References: Genetic Variation and Its Management Applications in Eastern U.S. Feral Horses Robin B. Goodloe, Robert J. Warren, E. Gus Cothran, Susan P. Bratton and Kathryn A. Trembicki The Journal of Wildlife Management, Vol. 55, No. 3 (Jul., 1991), pp. 412-421
    Analysis of Genetic Variation in the PMWH Herd. Cothran, E.G. and F. Singer (2000) pp 91104.(in) Singer, F.J. and K.A. Schoenecker, compilers (2000) Managers’ Summary – Ecological Studies of the Pryor

    [Using “average” figures, this 70,466 acre park could support about 300 wild horses.]

    Liked by 1 person

      • I agree Debbie, absolutely ! And why don’t they just leave the horses alone. Isn’t a park for wild animals anyway. ?! Aren’t parks supposed to have wild creatures ???
        I don’t see them doing this to other animals in the park. People go to parks to see wild life !!! That’s what parks are for !!!


    • GG, agreed, but this herd has been below viability for some years already it seems. Unless the park can be expanded (unlikely, since OIl & Gas is encroaching already on its boundaries) there has to be some sustainable number for those limited acres. One could wish it was unfenced so the herd could live naturally but that is not the reality here.

      Your quote: [Using “average” figures, this 70,466 acre park could support about 300 wild horses.] sounds promising, what is the source? Averages are not too helpful when dealing with site-specific conditions, unfortunately. I’d like very much to see the forage production figures from park itself, which in theory should be public information. Any idea where to find it?

      Maybe horses from here could be released in other areas to boost genetic viability and restore herds in areas where they have been eliminated…not to even digress into the Nokota horse history and subsequent removal from the park. No easy answers!

      Liked by 1 person

      • Just because this TR herd has been poorly managed in the past (as you say) does not mean it has to managed as bad or worse than before – instead use some common sense and make it better.

        Keep the oil and gas out of the park and use a perimeter fence but no interior fences and allow the wild ones to manage themselves in the wild as nature intended. This is not rocket science if you only take the politics out of it and use common sense and true science (not bought and paid for politically biased “science”). The only real management they need is to keep the humans from “managing” them. The elements and four legged predators and nature’s decision about survival of the fittest will prevail in a healthy way as nature knows is best – it is only we humans that insist on controlling them and for the wrong reasons. I am familiar with wild horses dying and being severely injured by predators and foals disappearing in the wild and although it always makes my heart sad … it is nature’s way and that makes my heart glad. This is not a Bambi world – this is the real thing – as it should be.

        As for the “average” number … all areas have numerous variables in a particular ecosystem but we need to have some idea when figuring acres per horse or burro so that we know if the land in discussion can support 30 or 300 or 3000 and so to put a perspective on this, I quote, “The average Nevada mustang needs about 1,000 pounds of forage per month x 12 months = 12,000 pounds/50 pounds forage/acre = 240 acres per horse.” I have been all over the west including the TR Park and if memory serves me the resources (grass, meadows and water etc) in the TR park far exceed those in mid Nevada.

        Until humans learn to respect nature and use their brains to help with decisions and not their fat greedy wallets for the sake of ME ME ME … then I see very little hope for these or any other wild animal in the future that is “managed” by humans.


        Liked by 1 person

      • GG, this is precisely why we need the calculations being used in TR NP to determine the numbers of horses they believe that land can sustain. I agree the 1,000 lbs./month is an average, but the jump from that to lbs./acre in the (BLM?) quote you provided is not particularly useful. Even adjacent pastures will have very different production, and they all vary. With all due respect it just isn’t helpful to compare Nevada with North Dakota when there is very site-specific data already compiled by a person paid with taxpayer dollars. My question is where to find it, and also any specific info from the biologist there on the nature, numbers and species of any predators. We are being asked to accept a course of action without any supporting data, which obscures what is really happening. If there is nothing to hide, then they should hide nothing, right? I say, show us the data.

        My understanding of this park (admittedly limited) is that it is fully fenced on the perimeter, and that Oil & Gas drilling operations are encroaching on the outside of that boundary, raising concerns from park officials for various reasons.

        Liked by 1 person

  3. Victory for Wild Bison in Montana!
    14 April 2014
    Posted by: Steve Forrest

    In a decision that the uninitiated would argue is a painful exercise in stating the obvious, a Montana court last week determined that the wild bison of Yellowstone, an animal that has roamed the continent for millennia, are indeed wild animals. Wild bison have been a fixture of the North American landscape for at least 300,000 years, numbering 20-30 million strong, yet were driven to the brink of extinction in the late 1800s by overhunting and purposeful eradication to subjugate tribes who depended on them. This makes wild bison proof of what reckless human disregard can bring upon our fellow creatures, and of the fact that to many humans, creatures should be permitted to survive only if they conform to our notion of order and efficiency.

    What brought us to the point of needing the courts to declare wildlife as wild? We would never have reached this sad point except for the livestock interests in the Montana legislature who have been aggressively trying to legislate wild bison out of existence for the past six years. At the heart of this battle is a fundamental question: is there room in the world today for the still wild? Or will our wildlife be forced into smaller and smaller boxes in which they eventually are stripped of the roles they play in natural systems? Given the importance of this decision, the anti-wild and anti-bison forces will almost certainly be back in the Montana legislature next January, trying to confine wild bison, but for now the door remains open to recover bison as part of our natural heritage in Montana.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. To add to Grandma Gregg’s analog of the ME, ME, ME scenario —–remember the great Indian prediction.
    When all the trees have been cut down,
    When all the animals have been hunted,
    When all the waters are polluted,
    When all the air is unsafe to breath,
    Only then will man discover, he cannot eat money.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. How much is dude Baker getting paid to poison wild mares and count poop balls? Does he have an equine background? What a prime example of the blind leading the blind…on our tax dollar dime again… Wild horses in peril is really becoming the Wild Horse Warrior battle cry, in peril from our own “educated” government. Yet, the government, BLM or USFS doesn’t seek our wild horse experts like Ginger Kathrens, Craig Downer and others that are well known wild horse advocates, the very ones that have the practical, logical and scientific backgrounds to work towards more humane, viable alternatives for wild horse herds. Disgusting government trying to hide it’s real ulterior motives: caving in to political greed/corruption for those welfare sheep/cattle ranchers, private corporations that destroy the environment (mining, oil and gas frackers). Tsk, tsk… We, wild horse advocates, must continue our vigilance.


    • The study has been carried out entirely by CSU and as far as the poop balls….they contain alot of information that is important to this study…hormone levels, parasite levels.


    Summit Promoting a Billion Dollar Private Endowment for Parks
    Posted on Jan 24, 2012

    As the National Park System prepares for its centennial in 2016 it is turning toward corporate funding for support, according to Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER). A core strategy announced by National Park Service (NPS) leaders in August 2011 is creating a billion dollar corporate-financed endowment outside the federal appropriation process.


  7. I respect everyone’s opinions but as a member of the North Dakota Badlands Horse group I have a different perspective. Our group advocates for, promotes, documents and photographs the wild horses in TRNP. We work very hard for these horses and would also love to have all the horses live out their life in the park but because they share it with elk, bison, bighorn sheep, mule deer, pronghorn and white tailed deer there has to be enough forage for all of them. Keep in mind the park has a boundary fence, so these animals are not coming and going. The birth control study was started so that large scale round ups did not have to continue…I for one think that is great as I detest them. Keep in mind that these horses are not BLM, so that means they go straight to the sale barn and can be bought by kill buyers. Give Blake some credit as he has said that he never wants this to happen again…I respect that and will support the birth control effort.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. This is sick. When do we start using birth control on wild animals? Man playing God is so evil. Its the human race that needs sterilization. This man is going to eventually cause this herd to go extinct as its obvious with the low number he wants in his park. And then for them not to reproduce by getting rid of the young mares. BLM needs to just quit doing all this illegal stuff. There is no guarantee that the mares he will sale won’t go to killbuyers. There again you send contaminated meat into the human food source. Shame on all of you involved for your hunger of power and money, and lack of concern for the horses or humans


  9. And now in 2020, the CSU birth control study is going into it’s 11th year with the promise of a long lasting commitment from the park to continue. They also cull EVERY foal they can capture every year leaving an older herd that will eventually die out while North Dakota Badlands Horse helps them sell the babies every year. Great job advocating! For Theodore Roosevelt National Park and CSU!!

    Liked by 1 person

Care to make a comment?

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.