By Alan Gionet

DENVER (CBS4)– The Bureau of Land Management will be taking a look at the way it does intake for wild horses brought into its Wild Horse and Burro Corrals in Canon City.

(credit: CBS)

“We are reviewing the intake history of these horses and will provide the results of that review and any recommended changes in the near future,” said BLM spokesman Steven Hall.

It as wild horse advocates are questioning the department’s handling of the 457 horses gathered from the West Douglas area west of Meeker on the Western Slope in August of 2021.

“I’m very concerned about it. I don’t think it reflects well on the BLM,” said Ginger Kathrens, founder of the Colorado Springs-based group, The Cloud Foundation. “They didn’t do their due diligence when they brought the horses in.”

A report on the cause of mass deaths among horses at the Canon City facility points at an equine influenza virus as the likely cause. The strain H3N8, is not known for killing so many animals at once. The BLM believes there is a secondary reason the horses have become so ill. Other horses among the over 2500 in Canon City have gotten ill, but have not died, only those gathered in the West Douglas area have been killed.

Among the possible reasons is the finding of two equine herpes viruses among the horses that is common among healthy horses in the wild and in captivity. Other potential causes include other viral or bacterial infections, including any that may be previously unidentified. They are also looking at whether a fire last year before the horses were gathered may have resulted in respiratory damage and whether high winds through the area where the horses have been kept this spring have meant dust that has been harmful. Still to be looked at as well is the potential of some kind of toxic exposure to vegetation or something else.

(credit: BLM)

“We just ask for some patience as we continue to solidify some of the science in some of those findings,” said Hall.

The first horses to get severely ill were among a group of about 50 that were vaccinated five to ten days before the illness began.

As to whether there was a problem with the vaccine, Hall said, “It’s hard to say and that again will be one of those answers we might have more definitive information on in a week or so.”

Influenza vaccines are commonly given to horses. Kathrens wonders why the horses were not vaccinated when they were brought in.

“This facility is one of our, BLM’s premier facilities. And so they knew exactly what to do, but they didn’t do it.”

The horses had generally been in improving health since the gather. Hall says the horses were in rough shape initially.

On the vaccine question, he said, “The timing of the vaccination is something that we’re reviewing as we take a look at how we got to where we’re at.”

Other horses in the adoption queue were vaccinated.

“We had vaccinated those horses prior to the West Douglas horses. But that’s one of the questions we will be looking at in our review is why did it take the length of time that it did to vaccinate these horses?”

(credit: CBS)

Kathrens would still like answers.

“I’m not saying those other people aren’t good people. But they certainly aren’t doing what they used to do. Which was the animals were treated well, cared for, given their shots.”

She feels the horses would have done better left in the wild.

“I think if they didn’t have the facility ready to take proper care of them, absolutely they should never have been rounded up.”

Alan Gionet