Wild Horse Sanctuary President Denies Equine Neglect

story by Pat Raia as published on The Horse

““I cannot tell you much, but…”

stallionKaren Sussman, president of the International Society for the Preservation of Mustangs and Burros (ISPMB), is denying accusations that 30 mustangs died of starvation at the organization’s South Dakota facility.

Founded by Velma Johnston, also known as Wild Horse Annie, to study and preserve wild horse herds in the west, ISPMB currently manages four wild horse herds and collects data on the horses’ social structures and herd dynamics.

Sussman told TheHorse.com that on Oct. 2, former ISPMB employee Colleen Burns posted accusations on the internet that Sussman had maltreated horses at the sanctuary and that 30 animals had died allegedly of malnutrition.

Sussman said Burns had recently been fired from the organization and denied the accusations.

“I cannot tell you much, but I can tell you that the 30 horses did not die of starvation,” she said, adding that her lawyer would issue a statement.

Burns could not be reached for comment.

Meanwhile, a Dewey County, South Dakota, Sheriff’s Department representative said an investigation into the alleged deaths is underway, but no one has been charged in the case.

The spokesman declined further comment on the ongoing investigation. He referred further inquiries to Dewey County State’s Attorney Steve Aberle.

Aberle was unavailable for comment.

43 comments on “Wild Horse Sanctuary President Denies Equine Neglect

    • Susan Rudnicki I believe you are right. There’s no way a person with a once of sense would say they didn’t do this when duh there there are dead horses everywhere and many others close to dying. Hoarders often say this. Just denial.

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      • She said not 30 horses died, and none died from starvation. She did not say no horses died. She had a fund raiser to gather money for necropsy of some deaths and wasting … one thing being looked at is the uranium mine waste upstream another for testing the foals that died from mothers who had received 4.5 years of pzp whereas the foals from non pzped foals did not die in their first year. Also, each picture when actually taken and are they all from the farm. Yes, we now have two versions. I am sad about what happened to the horses in the pictures. Ms. Burns only group she belongs to has in the past sent out horrible horse pictures and claimed they were somewhere they were not.

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      • I replied to her email asking for donations for winter. I replied to her stating I donated to the Auditors office so the funds get where they need to be to help the horses. I asked why did 30 horses die? She replied with 30 horses did not die here. Typical hoarder but breeding? and 3 yrs ago 50 foals died due to no shelters even when people asked about getting shelter. 😦

        Liked by 1 person

  1. I didn’t realize this Sanctuary was founded by Velma Johnston! I’m going to try to send some money if I can. I hope there weren’t the same kinds of problems that Madeline Pickens had to contend with. 😦

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    • Ida, I did wonder if someone perhaps sabotaged Karen’s research just prior to her publishing her remarkable work, but the absence of feed, bad checks etc. point to simpler (and even sadder) explanations.

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      • I don’t know, but I feel so badly for this woman now. This sanctuary’s history is so important too, for me to want to contribute to keeping it going! I was looking for a place where I could help, perhaps adopt a horse and a place where they could live, and this could be it! I want to do some more research.

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      • I wish there was a way for people interested to adopt a horse and pay for their feed and upkeep, but keep them on the sanctuary, as wild as they can be under the circumstances?

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      • Ida, I have long lobbied for a way to adopt wild horses in situ, that is, where they live or on some of the millions of acres of legal horse lands which have been emptied. It seems doubly harsh to expect taxpayers to prop up the BLM, USFS, the always-in-the-red livestock grazing program, wildlife services predator extermination, then turn around and force sanctuaries to beg for simple every day expenses to keep horses off their rightful ranges.

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  2. Dewey County Fund set up for donations https://www.facebook.com/Dewey-County-Sheriffs-Office-114345905250174/?fref=ts

    This is the account that’s set up by Dewey county. Go there to make your donations. That way you know that’d money is going to the horses. There have been great kindnesses shown by the alliance (RT Fitch take a bow) and people like our great lady Victoria McCullough among others. Let’s Kerri the momentum going because it isn’t about the people…it’s about the horses and they need us desperately. Thanks to everybody who has supported these beings and hopefully we can keep it going. Out can be turned around south some help from all of us. It takes a village to raise a child and it’s giving tho take the village of American horse lovers to raise this situation it if the dumps. It doesn’t matter how much or how little you can donate.. Every little bit counts. Thank you all.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. There was room in my heart for some empathy. I was wondering where Karen was in all this and was waiting for her to come out with some explanation. I did not expect to see her come out with a statement saying this isn’t happening, never happened. Come on! If someone expects the public to come out and do a bail out at least they can do is be honest. The horses are starving, wake up.

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    • Morgan, agreed, sadly. If there was no feed shortage and horses were dying, then one has to look at disease or toxins, but since horses of all ages are dead and at least three people on site documented it over time, it supports the starvation case. If Karen wants people to believe anything else she should publish necropsy results from qualified sources, not just drop the dead into a mass grave and bury them.

      Simply saying this didn’t happen is not sufficient explanation from a public charity. Nonprofits are not private kingdoms but public charities allowed benefits to act in the public interest. Hopefully the IRS has been notified. So sorry to write these words but nonprofit status is a privilege, not a right, and one that is often abused. I’m not sure if that’s the case here but many many questions arise for me, including the fiduciary responsibilities of the board of directors, who evidently knew of the problems but failed to address them (other than the one who resigned). Sending out a few FB blasts seeking basic operating funds is not sufficient evidence of crisis response in my opinion.

      Liked by 1 person

    • I have pictures from Sept 3rd of starving horses. Would you like to see them? This is horrific that she would say she didn’t know and try to pass the blame on Colleen. I believe you posting here is set up by Karen. It BS!

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      • Cheryl, I hope you weren’t responding to my posts, which don’t excuse either Karen or her board of directors. If you have photos you should post them for all to see, though, as more evidence of malfeasance.

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      • No, there is just to many questions. I do not like seeing those pictures Colleen used in her statement. But, intuition tells me not to jump to conclusions, that this is a larger story. Yes, I want to know more about those horses in the pictures, I want to see it get figured out. Are you the board member that resigned? Are you talking about Colleens pictures or some other ones?

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    • She has been out and has admitted the lack of feed, everyday I get postings from her asking for emergency winter feed donations. She denies that there was 30 and denies according to this author only starvation.

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  4. IF, if is the big question all allegations are proven. Although my gut says there is some hyperbole and a greater timeline for these pictures. So assuming C. Burns (could not she have a worse name — as in Conrad Burns) is say 75% factual, than All of them will be accountable now that the State (very livestock oriented) has taken over, it will be bad for them, I feel.
    As for the ranch, I have been looking at Ranches in South Dakota since Karen Mentioned they wanted to buy a 5000 acre ranch in 2013. (Which was their goal). This was suppose to of been promoted by their experienced Big Business manager they were looking to hire (one who had no business put in charge of feeding a herd). A ranch in South Dakota will state that it has the holding capacity of one cow per 60-100 acres full year or one AUM per 3 to 4 acres for 144 days.
    Since Karen has 600+ horses and growing. I am guessing now. say 250 are a full herd sexual dynamic and grows at a rate of 10% average, the others are a non reproductive herd. Math: in 10 years at 10% growth, 75% foal survival, 5% adult death There would be 550 reproductive horses – 900 total. A ranch would have to have 550 x’s 60 acres or 33000 acres. Now, to be sustainable for all the horses for one year add extra acres and hayfields into the mix. Her 5000 acres ranch would still be to small if she wanted no human interference with food supplements. But would be great with winter hay. Although, this does set up dependant behavior in the horse it still could have an assemblance of Wild. A 8000 ac. SD Ranch is for sale for $2,900,000. right now.

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      • IcySpots, it’s best that you go to the website and read the entire article which was published in 2015. It is copyrighted so you have to do so to read the entire article.
        Those Foals that died were born to Mares that had been given PZP for 4.5 years.
        There was no mention of any connection to the current information nor was there any intended. However, I believe it is important information for those of us who are passionate about keeping viable/healthy Wild Herds on our Public Lands.

        SUSPICIOUS DEATHS WITH USE OF ANTI-FERTILITY DRUG
        June 6, 2015
        http://www.ispmb.org/BirthControlDeaths.html

        Our last two herds received the fertility control drug 2007 until 2011 when we realized that the drug can cause permanent infertility with 5 years of applications….

        We are noting a pattern on our one herd that received 4.5 years of the drug and are now foaling again

        Out of 36 mares, 7 mares have foaled and 6 foals have died

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    • We don’t know what happened and the state taking over is NOT good.
      Karen didn’t deny that the Horses died, she stated that they didn’t die of starvation.
      Years of excellent work and research cannot and should not be ignored or forgotten.
      It is my understanding that she was getting ready to publish more research but was waiting for necropsy reports.
      How tragic that this was the GILA HERD

      iSPMB (International Society for the Protection of Mustangs & Burros)
      PRINCETON UNIVERSITY TEAMS UP WITH ISPMB TO STUDY EQUINE BEHAVIORS
      http://www.ispmb.org/downloads

      As we complete our thirteenth year in studying the White Sands and Gila herds, two isolated herds, which live in similar habitat but represent two different horse cultures, have demonstrated much lower reproductive rates than BLM managed herds. Maintaining the “herd integrity” with a hands off management strategy (“minimal feasible management”) and no removals in 13 years has shown us that functional herds demonstrating strong social bonds and leadership of elder animals is key to the behavioral management of population growth.

      ISPMB’s president, Karen Sussman, who has monitored and studied ISPMB’s four wild herds all these years explains, “We would ascertain from our data that due to BLM’s constant roundups causing the continual disruption of the very intricate social structures of the harem bands has allowed younger stallions to take over losing the mentorship of the older wiser stallions.

      In simplistic terms Sussman makes the analogy that over time Harvard professors (elder wiser stallions) have been replaced by errant teenagers (younger bachelor stallions). We know that generally teenagers do not make good parents because they are children themselves.

      Sussman’s observations of her two stable herds show that there is tremendous respect commanded amongst the harems. Bachelor stallions learn that respect from their natal harems. Bachelors usually don’t take their own harems until they are ten years of age. Sussman has observed that stallions mature emotionally at much slower rates than mares and at age ten they appear ready to assume the awesome responsibility of becoming a harem stallion.

      Also observed in these herds is the length of time that fillies remain with their natal bands. The fillies leave when they are bred by an outside stallion at the age of four or five years. Often as first time mothers, they do quite well with their foals but foal mortality is higher than with seasoned mothers.

      Sussman has also observed in her GILA HERD where the harems work together for the good of the entire herd. “Seeing this cooperative effort is quite exciting,” states Sussman.

      Liked by 1 person

      • From ISPMB

        SUSPICIOUS DEATHS WITH USE OF ANTI-FERTILITY DRUG
        June 6, 2015
        http://www.ispmb.org/BirthControlDeaths.html

        Our last two herds received the fertility control drug 2007 until 2011 when we realized that the drug can cause permanent infertility with 5 years of applications….

        We are noting a pattern on our one herd that received 4.5 years of the drug and are now foaling again

        Out of 36 mares, 7 mares have foaled and 6 foals have died

        Like

      • AND…as if there were not enough problems…there are the Uranium corporations in South Dakota polluting the water.

        CLEANUP NOT NECESSARY?!

        Cleanup not necessary at abandoned uranium mines in the project area of the proposed Dewey-Burdock uranium mine, EPA finds

        No cleanup will be required at three abandoned uranium mines near Edgemont after the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency was unable to document a release of hazardous substances. The EPA announced its decision Monday (April 25). It is based on water and sediment sampling conducted in September 2015 by contractor Weston Solutions Inc.

        The EPA deemed the sampling necessary after a 2014 preliminary assessment. The assessment was requested by the nonprofit Institute of Range and the American Mustang , owner of the BLACK HILLS WILD HORSE SANCTUARY.

        But the EPA contractor’s September 2015 sampling of sediment and water downstream from the mines did not detect concentrations of hazardous substances in excess of three times the natural or ‘background’ levels. Therefore, the EPA could not document any occurrence of a ‘release’ such as runoff from the mine pits. In other words, the mine sites may contain hazardous substances, but those substances do not appear to be escaping in amounts that would cause serious human health or ecological effects. (Rapid City Journal Apr. 27, 2016)
        http://www.wise-uranium.org/udusa.html#DFT

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      • I read Karen’s writings about wild horse behavior and was in awe how nature takes care of her own. Karen’s statements were heartening. On the other hand, the anti fertility advocates did not approve of what she was doing and often prognosticated doom and failure. There is no denying that these 30 unfortunate horses suffered the most.

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      • Also think they should be testing for prion diseases in the dead and dying horses (Chronic Wasting Disease in Elk, Scrapie in sheep, BSE in Cattle etc.) since these are known to persist in soil and vegetation such that areas can’t readily be decontaminated but have to be evacuated.

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      • Louie, you posted here about death losses related to PZP (yes, from an older article). Since many of the current photos show emaciated and dying stallions, it isn’t logical to me to connect PZP use to the current situation.

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      • Louie, got that. You posted here older PZP related information which I assume you felt had relevance to the current topic, recent deaths of horses at ISPMB. Somehow I don’t see the connection, especially as related to the deaths of undrugged stallions, unless you are thinking maybe the male foals that survived are now among those stallions dying from starvation, and somehow this is related to PZP? It’s all a side issue to what we are witnessing now, I just don’t get your implied connection.

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    • Mary, one of the things being overlooked is that ISPMB has proven reproduction rates can be kept relatively low in natural herds, so the “out of control population” arguments flying around hold little water. I don’t have the research data but simple math showing 250 original horses and sixteen years later barely twice that indicates a doubling every sixteen years, not every two or four as most sources insist. I also have no information on any natural predation at ISPMB but the photos posted show there are at least some predators around (stallion with neck wound, foal scavenged etc.) to help naturally select herd population sizes.

      Like

      • IcySpots, it’s best that you go to the website and read the entire article which was published in 2015. It is copyrighted so you have to do so to read the entire article.
        Those Foals that died were born to Mares that had been given PZP for 4.5 years.
        There was no mention of any connection to the current information nor was there any intended. However, I believe it is important information for those of us who are passionate about keeping viable/healthy Wild Herds on our Public Lands.

        SUSPICIOUS DEATHS WITH USE OF ANTI-FERTILITY DRUG
        June 6, 2015
        http://www.ispmb.org/BirthControlDeaths.html

        Our last two herds received the fertility control drug 2007 until 2011 when we realized that the drug can cause permanent infertility with 5 years of applications….

        We are noting a pattern on our one herd that received 4.5 years of the drug and are now foaling again

        Out of 36 mares, 7 mares have foaled and 6 foals have died


        Like

        Like

  5. LIES! Colleen was fired after she released the information. I HAVE PICTURES…I WITNESSED HORSES STARVING TO DEATH. This is beyond deplorable!

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  6. An investigation by an independent party better be done, and fast.

    This is beyond horrifying. The whole situation has me torn to pieces. One part of me is furious at the president for allegedly not weighing the risk of these horses starving earlier. But the other side of me questions Burns’s honesty and wonders why she didn’t involve law enforcement sooner. I’d hate to believe that she lied, but I would also hate to think that Karen would have been so heartless and irresponsible so as to allow this to happen.

    The saddest part about the whole thing is that the horses (our wild ones and ISPMB’s horses) are the ones suffering as a result. Since this story came up, I’ve been seeing comments from keyboard-happy idiots using this as an excuse to roundup and slaughter our equines. Please. This was on PRIVATE PROPERTY. It’s fenced in, not some open range. The property’s pastures can’t sustain the horses alone, so Karen needs to feed them hay. As for wild horses, the overwhelming majority of them are exceptionally healthy. Even Tom Davis, a well-known kill-buyer, called them “fat and shiny”. Using a instance of reported neglect to back the “WILD HORES R GOIN’ 2 STARVE!11!1!1!!1!!!” argument is ludicrous. Yet, the pro-slaughter advocates are going to take this story, twist it to fit equally crooked agenda and sell it to the public.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. I get the ISPMB mailings and emails, and I just did send them some money — the plea was that horses would starve without help. I guess they did :-(. But, sending the messages/letters asking for help certainly denotes awareness that there is a problem — ? Don’t understand how Sussman can now deny that.

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  8. Sounds like the 3 Strikes ordeal in Alliance Ne. with Jason Meduna. He tried to say the water was polluted. No findings of pollution. Karen has court oct. 25 for the bad check she wrote. Who is going to continue to take the donated funds to feed these poor souls? Does not sound like the money was used properly. BLM will just love to see this story. It is hard to watch the video and then have Karen say No horses died here.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Nona, maybe Karen is right. Maybe they hauled the horses just off their property before killing or euthanizing and burying them. Ms. Burns and two hired hands, plus a board member all witnessed horses starving on site, and we have video of the carcasses in one pit (perhaps there are more). Simply denying this happened without providing any other explanation makes Karen’s words highly suspect. The truth will out.

      Denial and deflection seem to be high currency these days, but truth seeks the light and will eventually find it.

      Like

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