Alberta's wild horse roundup off to slow start


CALGARY -- Protests against the province's trapping of wild horses could be behind a slow uptake in those applying to round them up, a government official said yesterday.

Since they became available in mid-January, only one licence has been acquired to corral some of the 200 horses the province wants trapped -- a slower pace than other years, said Nikki Booth, spokesperson for Alberta Environment and Sustainable Resource Development (ESRD).

"There's always that potential ... I wouldn't rule that one out, though it could also be due to the colder weather this season," she said.

The program's opponents, she said, are understandably emotional but "misinformed" about its details that include a mandate to trap the horses humanely and ensure their captors keep them for six months to cut down on the numbers slaughtered.

Booth made the comments just as opponents of the campaign took their protest to the southern Alberta legislature Thursday.

About 50 people braved freezing temperatures outside the downtown McDougall Centre to condemn the proposed trapping in the foothills northwest and southwest of Calgary.

Protesters said using contraceptives on mares should be tried and called for a "cull of politicians" instead.

The province is taking an unprincipled and cruel route in thinning the horse's ranks, said Anita Virginillo of the group Lethbridge Animal Rights Effort.

"We pride ourselves on our horse culture but at the same time, we're the horse slaughter capital of Canada," she said. "They came to this decision without discussing it with anyone but those with a vested interest."

Virginillo said the province should do a recount of the horses, claiming the 980 cited by the province is likely a considerable exaggeration.

She said the animals' longer-term numbers haven't grown, considering they stood at 2,000 in 1983.

"It's not like the population is out of control," Virginillo said.

But the ESRD's Booth said an annual helicopter-borne count is almost certainly an underestimate because some of the animals remain hidden or are scared off by the aircraft.

Most of those captured, she said, are kept for recreational or work purposes, though some do go to slaughter.

"We don't track those numbers, we do have anecdotal information," she said, noting the last organized capture was in 2011.

The decision was based on input from a variety of stakeholders, animal rights advocates, veterinarians, ranchers and scientists who agreed the horses were over-competing with other animals for forage, Booth said.

Most of the trapping is done through the use of baited corrals, she said.

But Virginillo said the process is traumatic for pregnant mares, adding the province hasn't presented enough evidence of horse-caused environmental damage.

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