The semis would rumble down country roads packed full of wild horses. Truckload after truckload, sometimes 36 horses at a time, all with the same destination: a ranch in the small town of La Jara, Colo.
Records show that for years, the Bureau of Land Management sold and shipped more than 1,700 wild horses from its animal holding facilities to just one rancher. Now federal investigators are trying to figure out: What did he do with all those mustangs? And did any of them ultimately end up being butchered in the slaughter plants of Mexico?
Wild horse advocates fear the worst. They want to know the truth about the fate of the horses and whether the U.S. government looked the other way as the federally protected animals seemingly disappeared.
“I want to know where the horses went,” said Laura Leigh of the group Wild Horse Education, which advocates on behalf of the wild mustangs. “It’s disgusting, it’s abhorrent. Whoever signed that slip to approve those sales, I want to look them in the eye and say, ‘What were you thinking?’”
The BLM is charged with protecting wild horses under federal law and has confirmed that the Interior Department Office of Inspector General is investigating the agency’s sale of mustangs to rancher and livestock hauler Tom Davis.
The Davis investigation comes amid a growing controversy over the BLM’s Wild Horse and Burro Program. The agency faces a dire situation: Nearly 50,000 horses captured during frequent roundups, so-called “excess animals,” are living in government holding facilities that are nearing capacity. Horse adoptions are down, so the BLM has turned to selling the animals.