MUSTANGS
Jane Phillips  /  AP
Horse trainer Roeliff Annon works with a mustang on March 28 in Alcalde, N.M. Some 37,000 wild horses and burros roam public lands in 10 Western states.
updated 4/26/2005 9:37:26 PM ET 2005-04-27T01:37:26

The Interior Department abruptly halted delivery of mustangs to buyers while it investigates whether the slaughter of 41 wild horses in the West this month violates a federal contract requiring them to be treated humanely.

By enlisting last-minute financial help Monday from Ford Motor Co. — makers of the Mustang sports car — the agency saved the lives of 52 other mustangs.

The latest horses killed came from a broker who obtained them from the Rosebud Sioux Tribe of South Dakota. The tribe traded 87 of the 105 aging horses it bought from the government for younger ones. Interior officials said they would review whether a federal contract had been violated.

“I don’t think it’s fair to say they violated the agreement,” Kathleen Clarke, director of Interior’s Bureau of Land Management, told The Associated Press. “They were not traded to the animal processing facility. They were trading to a private individual.”

Todd Fast Horse, a spokesman for Rosebud Sioux Tribal President Charles Colombe, said the tribe did not knowingly do anything wrong. He said the tribe bought the horses from the BLM for a youth program.

Thinking of children
Tribal officials had requested the horses be 3 to 5 years old, he said, but when they arrived, the horses were too old and too big, and the tribe did not feel children could ride them safely. The tribal council then passed a resolution saying the BLM horses could be traded or exchanged.

“We thought we were doing the right thing,” Fast Horse said. “We thought we were doing what was in the best interest of the children.”

The Sioux tribe had to sign an agreement with BLM that it would “provide humane care” to each of the animals, documents show. Clarke said Interior’s top lawyer was investigating that arrangement.

The department also is investigating this month’s sale of six wild horses to an Oklahoma man and their slaughter at the Cavel International Inc. commercial packing plant in DeKalb, Ill., the same place the 35 were killed.

“It’s incredibly disappointing,” Clarke said. “It is not our intent to have these animals killed. That’s why we acted very aggressively.”

Congress in December replaced the 34-year-old ban on slaughtering mustangs with a law permitting older and unwanted horses to be sold. Wild horse advocates warned that will allow the animals to be killed and sold for horse meat, as dog food or for people to eat overseas.

‘A horror story’
Rep. Nick Rahall, D-W.Va., on Tuesday urged Congress to immediately repeal the change in law that Sen. Conrad Burns, R-Mont., sponsored last year. Rahall and Rep. Ed Whitfield, R-Ky., so far have 50 co-sponsors for such legislation in the 435-member House.

“America’s love affair with wild horses and burros has turned into a horror story of slaughter and betrayal,” Rahall told the AP. “Sadly, slaughter is the inevitable result of the ill-conceived changes in law that occurred late last year.”

Whitfield and Reps. John Sweeney, R-N.Y., and John Spratt, D-S.C., also reintroduced a bill that stalled last year and would ban the horse slaughter trade, whether domestic or shipped live for that purpose abroad.

BLM officials, tipped off by Agriculture Department inspectors, on Monday persuaded the plant managers to stop. That saved the lives of 16 mustangs about to be killed.

The plant agreed to give the horses food and water until BLM officials can pick them up. BLM officials also intervened to save 36 mustangs in Nebraska that were on their way to the Cavel plant. Those horses are to be picked up separately Tuesday and kept in the Midwest.

More animals than food
BLM, which captures the animals during government roundups aimed at reducing the wild population, has sold and delivered nearly 1,000 horses since the new law passed. BLM says 37,000 wild horses and burros forage its lands, 9,000 more than Western ranges can sustain.

Clarke said she ordered an immediate halt to the delivery of some 950 more that have been sold. “We will not be making any more deliveries until we can check on the situation,” she said. “We just want to reassess our program.”

Clarke said she’d already been talking with Ford about such a partnership even before she called the company for help Monday. “We do not have any clear authority to buy private animals,” Clarke said. She persuaded Ford to pledge $19,000 to ship and care for the mustangs.

© 2012 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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