Lives of Alberta’s wild horses may be saved by pilot project

CALGARY- Wild horse culls in the Foothills have been a source of controversy for years but now, the Alberta government has agreed to a new pilot project to manage the number of wild horses in the Sundre area.

For the next five years, the Wild Horse Society of Alberta (WHOAS)has government approval to vaccinate some healthy mares with a contraceptive to keep them from reproducing. Researchers with the University of Calgary will track the progress of the project.

“We can evaluate that on the basis of all the other things we do to manage that wild horse population,” said Duncan MacDonnel, a spokesperson with Alberta Environment and Sustainable Resource Development (ESRD). “It may fit, we’ll see.”

But the ESRD is not ruling out wild horse culls outside the Sundre zone and the program’s critics say the agreement between the ESRD and WHOAS is simply smoke and mirrors.

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“I’m not sure why they would give the contraceptive program a chance and then say they’re going to cull at the same time,” said Shannon Mann with Help Alberta Wildies.

WHOAS says while its pilot project is a good start, it will continue to fight any future culls.

“In the short-term it may happen,” said WHOAS’ Bob Henderson. “But we are really going to push that the government give us an opportunity to show that this program can work.”

The government-approved culls in the area have resulted in significant public backlash over the last couple of years. But ranchers say the horses compete with grazing cattle for food.

A count last spring revealed there were 880 wild horses in Alberta.