They roam the Eastern slopes in the Foothills of Alberta and many argue wild horses are part of the province’s landscape and deserve to be there, enjoying their freedom. Others say they’re a threat to the ecosystem and need to be controlled.
Now, five years after a plan was implemented to manage the populations from a distance, the future of the creatures is up in the air.
In 2014, the province of Alberta allowed a cull of feral horses and several were captured. Some were adopted, others were auctioned off and sent to slaughter. It triggered widespread protests, so a compromise was made: a birth control pilot program was arranged.
Bob Henderson, president of the Wild Horses of Alberta Society signed a memorandum of understanding with the province to administer contraception to the horses.
“We were looking at more humane ways of population management with the herds as opposed to catching them and sending them for slaughter,” Henderson said.
Over the past five years, through volunteers and private fundraising, the Wild Horses of Alberta Society tracked the horses through challenging terrain near Sundre, Alta., and darted wild mares, injecting them with a contraceptive vaccine. But they need more manpower and financial support to administer more. Just under 90 horses have gotten the vaccine, which wears off over time.
“The government is talking massive culling, that’s the word right now,” Henderson said. “So I could see them reverting back to 2013/2014 when they rounded up 200 head of horses and most went up for slaughter.”
At the end of September, the society’s contraception program expires. Jason Nixon, the minister of environment and parks, said no decision has been made.
“We are in a stage where we are renegotiating the contraception program and our wild horse experts in the department and other agencies are in conversations,” Nixon said.
Those working to protect the horses are developing more scientific research to prove they deserve to be saved.
“They represent a sense of freedom and spirit of beauty and have a right to be there,” Henderson said.