Various versions of this op-ed were published in newspapers across Canada. The military abandoned its plan when the sh*t hit the fan
Slaughtering wild horses unnecessary and inhumane:
Toronto Star [Toronto, Ont] 25 Aug 1992: A17.
IF CANADIAN Defence Minister Marcel Masse has his way, European and Japanese diners will have a chance to feast on Canadian wild- horse steak by early 1993. Masse has approved a plan to round up at least 500 of what may be the last 800 wild horses on the Prairies. The roundup is set to start in late November.
The horses, which roam the range on Canadian Forces Base Suffield, just north of Medicine Hat, will then be auctioned off. Some of the luckier horses may become breeding stock. Others may be bought as rodeo bucking broncs. Those too wild to tame will be slaughtered and their flesh sold, in all likelihood, to European and Japanese consumers.
In a classic case of Orwellian logic, profits from the auction would be put toward a study of the remaining wildlife on the base.
The military claims that the roundup and subsequent slaughter of these wild horses is necessary for environmental reasons – even though part of CFB Suffield was recently protected as a National Wildlife Area (NWA) by the federal government. The military however, is still responsible for the maintenance of the wildlife area. Part of the NWA is a fragile area known as the Middle Sand Hills along the South Saskatchewan River, and the military claims the horses are destroying the Sand Hills by overgrazing them.
But neither the military nor Environment Canada are seriously considering more humane solutions to the problem.
CFB Suffield, often referred to as the British Block, is basically a foreign base on Canadian soil. Suffield has two main purposes: It acts as a research centre for chemical and biological warfare studies and it provides a training ground for British artillery and tank units.
Every year the British fire off 300,000 tonnes of live artillery on the test range. While these war games are going on, the horses flee to the only place they are safe, the Sand Hills. Essentially, the horses are being forced to graze the Sand Hills to survive.
The military is quick to point out that the horses are not indigenous to the area, that they were released by settlers whose farms failed during the ’20s and ’30s. That, however, means the horses have been there at least 10 years longer than the military, which took control of the area in 1941.
Alberta is cattle country and CFB Suffield is no exception. Agriculture Canada has an ongoing agreement with the military that allows ranchers to graze cattle on the base. Currently there are 2,429 head of cattle, plus their calves, in three separate areas. Nearly 1,200 of those cattle, plus calves, are getting fat on a section of the base separate from the Sand Hills, but still within the protected National Wildlife Area.
The military insists that cattle grazing is in no way related to the “horse problem.” But many people are starting to ask why, if there is enough room and food on the base for all those privately owned cattle, isn’t there a place for the horses?
The army contends that if the population of the wild horse herd is not checked, they will soon threaten other wildlife. Some 4,000 antelope and 2,500 deer, neither of which are an endangered or threatened species, also call Suffield home.
Studies have shown that wild horses can live alongside other wildlife because they have different feeding habits. History would tend to back this up, given that huge numbers of mustangs lived in harmony with other species native to North America just one century ago.
Even if a population control program is necessary for the wild horses, there are certainly better ways than slaughtering them.
Sterilization of the dominant stallions would have much the same effect. A stallion that controls a harem of five to eight mares will likely do so for eight to 10 years. A sterilized stallion will remain dominant over the mares but will not breed them, nor will he allow any other stallion to breed them.
If, indeed, the wild horses are overgrazing the Sand Hills, then why not supplement their diet by dropping bails of hay? Or, if necessary, fence off the Sand Hills and let the area rejuvenate. This would mean opening up another part of the base, either in the military test range or the cattle grazing areas, to the horses.
The plan to round up and slaughter the wild horses has generated a storm of outrage among horse lovers, animal rights groups, environmentalists and peace groups. Let’s hope Marcel Masse is listening.