As of November 1, 2014, the Wild Horses of Alberta Society (WHOAS) and the Environmental and Sustainable Resource Department (ESRD) entered into a Memorandum of Understanding. The collaboration between the ESRD and WHOAS is a radical departure from the traditional capture method of managing Alberta’s wild horses.
This 5-year agreement allows WHOAS to work in conjunction with the ESRD to manage the wild horse population in the Sundre Equine Zone by using a combination of PZP (a form of temporary birth control) and an adoption program.
Working with veterinarians and University of Calgary researchers over the next 5 years WHOAS goal is to show that PZP contraception is not only a humane method of managing wild horse numbers but an effective one as well. PZP will be administered via dart gun. All costs of this program will be covered by WHOAS.
PZP has many benefits as a management tool, one of them being that it does not affect the social behavior of the herd because it is an ‘Immuno Vaccine’. It does not change the normal reproductive cycling of injected mares. Mares will still cycle and stallions will still breed them.
The effects of the contraceptive are reversible and without side effects. A mare can be safely inoculated up to 3 years in a row. If a pregnant mare is inoculated it will not affect the foal. Healthy mares make healthy foals. PZP can give mares who need a rest from pregnancy to establish their health and in turn produce healthier foals which are more likely to survive. This will promote the overall health and viability of herds.
WHOAS now has the authority to rescue wild horses who find themselves in trouble for any number of reasons. A couple of the most common ones are straying onto private property or being left behind by the herd. Adoption of these horses will happen after WHOAS has worked with them at their facility and gentled them making them suitable for adoption.
Another factor in the adoption program is that ONLY WHEN OR IF necessary WHOAS will be called to remove some horses from their environment. IF this is required WHOAS will be very selective only removing the younger horses, not pregnant mares or whole herds, leaving herd dynamics intact. Should this ever become necessary the young horses will be gentled for adoption.
Bob Henderson of WHOAS hopes that by the end of the 5 year trial this management approach to Alberta’s wild horse population will be proven successful enough to be implemented in all of the provinces equine zones.
When asked if this hope could be reality Duncan MacDonnell of the ESRD indicates that it certainly could be and is enthusiastic about the project. He also notes the ESRD is open to new and better ways to manage the wild horse population with the end goal of a healthy population of horses remaining in the wild.
The adoption program will be made much easier thanks to WHOAS new handling facility, made possible with the generous donation of 20 acres by Art and Helen Kohanik. The long range vision for this sanctuary includes it being used as an education center that groups can visit to see and learn about the wild horse’s role in our provinces history.
Over this last summer WHOAS has helped 9 horses. There are not many options out there for a safe place for wild horses to be handled by knowledgeable people and the WHOAS facility fills a unique need. Sometimes a horse that is already in another organizations care needs help as well. WHOAS helped out Free Spirit Sanctuary just last month when they needed to find a new home for a wild horse by providing it a home at their sanctuary.
WHOAS is an organization that depends on volunteers and donations from the public. If you would like to stay updated about WHOAS and their progress or purchase a calendar sold to raise funds for the group, visit their webpage at www.wildhorsesofalberta.com.
Certain to be closely watched by wild horse advocates, this new partnership between WHOAS and the ESRD is the first step in ushering in a new approach managing the provinces wild horses and many would say a step in the right direction.