Is the Government Illegally Selling Wild Horses for Slaughter?

Some say the Bureau of Land Management is making a quick buck endangering the lives of the horses they're supposed to be protecting.
Wild horses are supposed to be protected, so why have so many been sold off under mysterious circumstances? (Photo: Comstock/Getty Images)
Sep 30, 2012· 2 MIN READ
A Bay Area native, Andri Antoniades has previously worked as a fashion industry journalist and a medical writer.

The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) is the agency that oversees the wild horse population of the American West. Earlier this year, when those populations spiked―as they frequently do―the agency decided to sell off a portion of their stables.

The problem is that it sold them to Tom Davis, who according to ProPublica, is suspected of buying a significant number of horses in order to sell them to slaughterhouses―an illegal practice and a claim he and BLM both deny.

NBC News reports that since 2009, Davis has purchased about 70 percent of the agency's horse stock. It's suspected that Davis then sells them to slaughterhouses where the animals are killed and ground into products like fertilizer and pet food.

But that's not supposed to happen. Whenever BLM sells its horses, it's supposed to be for the purposes of "adoption," and the purchaser signs an agreement stating he'll find the horses good homes―but there’s little evidence Davis has ever made good on that promise. And NBC reports that he’s a vocal proponent of horse slaughter.

The livestock hauler has bragged that he’s side-stepped Colorado law to illegally move horses across state lines to destinations he won’t reveal, he buys horses for slaughter from Indian reservations, and he’s currently looking for investors to open a slaughterhouse of his own.

ProPublica also quotes him as saying:

"Hell, some of the finest meat you will ever eat is a fat yearling colt. What is wrong with taking all those BLM horses they got all fat and shiny and setting up a kill plant?"

But BLM is surprisingly nonplussed about all this. They report that all buyers are carefully screened and none of the wild horses they've sold have ever gone to slaughter. Sally Spencer, who runs the agency’s sales program, told NBC it would be unfair to stir up rumors about Tom Davis because "people are innocent until proven guilty in the United States."

It would seem though that BLM has a greater stake in not knowing what happens to their horses after they’re sold. Some of the agency’s own employees secretly told NBC that with the surplus of wild horses the bureau needs to off-load, Tom Davis is a welcome relief―no matter what he's doing with the animals.

One corral manager who didn’t want to be identified explained, "They are under a lot of pressure in Washington to make numbers. Maybe that is what this is about. They probably don't want to look too careful at this guy."

Today, with the poor economy and soaring hay prices, only one in three wild horses available for adoption ever finds a home. The rest go into tax payer-funded corrals, which are now so full, there are more wild horses in captivity than on the range.

Davis says he’s provided all the horses he’s purchased with good homes, but when asked if he would provide records of those adoptions, he told NBC, “Ain’t no way in hell.”

The BLM has its own sordid past of knowingly selling horses for slaughter, but it swears that’s not what’s happening now. Critics, however ,say that in this market, there’s no way Davis is finding homes for that many wild horses when the current economic circumstances wouldn’t even support the sale of tamed horses.

But Ginger Kathrens, director of the horse advocacy group The Cloud Foundation, explains that it’s not only Davis and it’s not only the BLM, but the entire system that needs to be overhauled.

“They just warehouse more and more horses and create their own crisis. Then, after they run the program into the ground, they have to find ways out of it. It is a whole unnatural ridiculous system run amok. And who pays the ultimate price? Wild horses.”

If you'd like to help protect wild horses from slaughter, the Hidden Valley Wild Horse Protection Fund website keeps activists informed about how they can help and protect wild horses from inhumane treatment.

Instead of off-loading the animals, would you be in favor of BLM exploring other ways to control the overpopulation of wild horses?