The Canadian battle for the wild horses
Often here in our articles on horse slaughter, we speak of the horrors of Canadian slaughter houses where thousands of American horses are killed every year. Most Canadians, like most Americans, do not want horses killed and they do want their wild horses to remain free.
Virginia Fisher, a Canadian advocate for the “wildies” as Canadians call their wild horses, has provided us with some much needed insight on the efforts of her fellow countrymen to stop their government from destroying the wild horses in their habitat on Canadian soil. Thank you Virginia.
Our Battle with the ESRD – Part I
By: Virginia Fisher
January 21, 2014, was Black Tuesday for hundreds of us in Alberta. That was the day the Alberta Provincial Government informed the general public that it was issuing Capture Permits for 196 of our free roaming wild horses in the Sundre area of Alberta. But, let me go back a little way. In June, 2013, Alberta was hit with the worst floods in its history, and in early December Alberta received a relatively early and very heavy snowfall with temperatures dropping and staying cold. Our wild horses were struggling
trying to paw through belly deep snow to find grass and many new foals were lost. One foal was found, completely exhausted and near death, laying in a snow drift. His herd had moved on without him in search of food, and he was left to his fate. He was spotted by two people and telephone calls were made and a rescue team pulled, lifted and carried him onto a trailer. He was taken to a nearby barn and received immediate medical attention and, after a few rough days and nights, started to improve. He was named Kai, and he became our mascot for what was about to come.
We’d heard rumors from various parties involved in trying to protect the wild horses, that a capture was going to be allowed this year. Bob Henderson of WHOAS, (Wild Horses of Alberta Society) had been posting on his website that he suspected a capture was imminent, and another man, Darrell Glover, who lives in the Olds area, and our official “Eye in the Sky”, had been flying over the previous capture sites keeping an eye out for any sign of capture pens and roads being plowed out. Sandie Hucal, who runs Free Spirit Sanctuary, and I had been discussing it on-line and decided to each do a postcard campaign targeting the Ministry of Environment and Sustainable Resource Development (ESRD), the Provincial Ministry responsible for the (mis)management of our wild horses. Both campaigns were very successful with around 3,000 postcards being sent into Minister Robin Campbell requesting no capture be allowed this year, and that our wild horses receive Heritage or Protected Status. It all fell on deaf ears.
On January 19, 2014, Darrell spotted a freshly plowed road at a site in the Williams Creek area, previously used by Jason Bradley, a former Capture Permit Holder. The picture was posted on-line and everyone was asked to network and write, email, phone and fax ESRD and ask if any Permits had been issued this year. We all did and were each told that, “No Permits issued at this time”. ESRD was questioned about the plowed out road spotted by Darrell, but all answers were the same, “No Permits issued at this time”. We knew we were being lied to, and then on January 21st, in the early afternoon, an announcement was made that 196 wild horses were to be culled from the herds and that 3 Capture Permits had been issued, one of them purchased by Jason Bradley.
Jason Bradley is known in the area as he has participated in other captures. He is also on the Feral Horse Advisory Committee, so in effect, voted for himself to obtain a Permit. Does that sound like conflict of interest? We thought so too, but again, all our letters, emails, phone calls and faxes were ignored and the capture went ahead. ESRD tries to wash its hands of the wild horses, by saying that once captured, a wild horse becomes the property of the Capture Permit Holder and can be disposed of any way the Permit Holder decides. Jason, has in the past, sent many of the horses he captures to slaughter. He tears the young foals away from their mothers, and occasionally will keep a stallion for resale, but the majority, including heavily pregnant mares, are sold to a local kill buyer and are shipped to slaughter.
Darrell opened up a Facebook page, entitled Help Alberta Wildies, so that we could easily communicate and pass on information. Kai’s picture was posted on the page as this was what we were fighting for, and protests were organized, with two being held in Calgary, one in Edmonton, and another in Red Deer. The four protests were well attended with media present at each. A petition was started on-line and received over 20,000 signatures in less than a month. ESRD was interviewed and asked for the reasons for a capture this year, and told everyone, the wild horses have no predators and their numbers were ballooning out of control; it was thought there was a high infection rate of Equine Infectious Anemia in the herds; and the horses were eating all the grass that was intended for wildlife and cattle. Does any of this sound familiar?
We knew the wild horse numbers were already down due to the floods and harsh winter, and many attempts were made over the months to get ESRD to postpone the capture until another count could be done proving there was no need to remove any more horses. Again, we were ignored. Darrell began flying the areas with a team of counters on board, and confirmed the horse numbers were down.
The capture went ahead despite all our efforts, so we took action. Groups were organized to drop hay away from the capture pen and up into the hills were the wild horses would be safe. Other people were driving skidoos up the plowed out road checking on the pen. Groups of walkers could be seen out on any given day. Somehow, a previously open gate onto
our Public Lands, became locked, trying to keep us out. Imagine those silly people trying to keep us off our Public Lands! We stepped it up again. Each effort to block us, only resulted in renewed determination. As we were being denied any information on whether or not any horses had been captured, Shannon Mann (of Whale Wars), made the decision to camp just inside the locked gate so that she would know when Jason came and went, and if he had captured any horses. Shannon was out there 24 hrs. a day and spent night after night in a tent in -30+ weather. We all take our hats off to her! Shannon was reporting in each day and unfortunately Jason managed to capture 12 horses. He was annoyed that the horses were nowhere near the capture pen and he hadn’t been able to capture his quota of 42 horses, so instead of selling what he called, the undesirable older horses to one of the numerous people who had asked to purchase and save them, he sold 3 mares to a kill buyer and they were sent to slaughter. Three other horses were caught by another Permit Holder, Bryn Thiessen, and were sold to WHOAS, and they are receiving training and will be homed soon. The third Permit Holder never did pick up his permit. Probably didn’t want any of the bad publicity that Jason Bradley was getting! As mentioned, Jason was extremely annoyed with us and had repeatedly gone to the RCMP claiming we were tampering with things, which wasn’t true, and the RCMP made it clear they were tired of having to come out each day to check things and they wanted the capture finished. The RCMP had previously been secretly recorded saying they wanted all the wild horses off Public Land and they even voted on the Feral Horse Advisory Committee to remove them. The RCMP arrived and ordered Shannon to move her camp. Again, this is Public Land and anyone has a right to be there. She asked where she should move to and was given 3 completely different answers by 3 different people. Clearly, the RCMP were making things up as they went along. In the meantime, Shannon had called for Darrell to come and assist her to move the camp, other people had arrived to take pictures of the capture pen, and others were just out walking. Darrell picked up a few people walking along the roadway to the capture pen, and the RCMP seeing them all arrive together, assumed they were all part of the “troublemakers” and ended up arresting 5 people and charged them with Mischief. Four of these people are senior citizens, one a tiny frail lady in her 70’s that uses a walker to get around with. She was brutally taken down from behind and face-planted in the snow. All 5 people were held for several hours before being charged and released. We affectionately christened them the “Mischief Makers” and Mona Jorgenson organized a fund raiser for them to help cover their legal fees. The Crown Prosecutor has yet to appear in Court, so it is not known at this time if charges will be dropped, but it seems pretty certain that charges are being brought against the RCMP for abuse of force. They are to appear early next week and perhaps we will be able to move forward from that.
Part II coming soon.