Jerry Sintz  /  Bureau of Land Management
Wild horses like this one on the Utah Range have thrived, but the U.S. Bureau of Land Management argues their numbers are now too large, and that some need to be sold off.
updated 3/18/2005 11:07:32 AM ET 2005-03-18T16:07:32

Although a new law lets the federal government sell certain wild mustangs for horsemeat, the first ones auctioned off have been spared from the slaughterhouse.

The 200 animals from Nevada that Wild Horses Wyoming bought from the Bureau of Land Management are roaming free on thousands of acres near Laramie, Wyo.

“We are in the business of saving horses,” said Sean Mater, one of five partners in the company.

In December, Congress replaced a 34-year-old ban on slaughtering any mustang with a statute that allows the sale of older and unwanted horses for their meat. The animals up for sale are captured during periodic government roundups aimed at reducing the wild population.

Feds: 9,000 too many horses
About 37,000 wild horses and burros roam the Western range, about 9,000 more than the BLM has said the natural forage can sustain.

BLM and Interior Department officials have said they hope to find homes for horses affected by the law. But wild horse advocates have called the new law inhumane and fear the animals will end up as horsemeat for human consumption overseas or as dog food.

Michael Smith  /  AP file
Ranch manager Ron Hawkins and Sean Mater take a break from offloading hay to feed wild horses in Laramie, Wyo., at a ranch used by Wild Horses Wyoming, which bought 200 wild mustangs from the Bureau of Land Management.

Wild Horses Wyoming and rescue groups are trying to save the horses by buying them.

Wild Horses Wyoming purchased the mustangs, all of them mares, for $50 each. The sale was announced March 1.

Mater, who lives in Fort Collins, Colo., said the company hopes to secure more land and eventually acquire up to 5,000 horses.

“That’s our goal,” said Bill Clark, a Fort Collins real estate broker and another partner in the venture. “Everybody is along the same track and nobody’s backing off here.”

Sponsorships to raise money
The group is soliciting money for its efforts by selling horse sponsorships. Mater said the goal is to use the sponsorship money to acquire land that will sustain the horses for the rest of their lives.

“Putting them on good rangeland allows them to forage for themselves, and remain in that same mode that they were in out on the range,” he said. “Once the land is paid for, then the horses become more or less maintenance free.”

Lifesavers Wild Horse Rescuers in Lancaster, Calif., has 120 horses on 46 acres of land, and plans to buy 10 mustangs under the new law, said Jill Starr, the group’s leader.

The Black Hills Wild Horse Sanctuary in Hot Springs, S.D., cares for 400 horses on 11,000 acres of privately owned land but has not immediate plans to take in more mustangs, office manager Pati Duff said.

“We need our resources for the one’s we’ve already got,” Duff said.

But she was confident others would help out.

“There’s many, many horse lovers, and I think people will step up,” she said.

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