Theresa Nolet of Project Equus in Summerland hopes that a “birth control” vaccine used in the U.S. to curb the feral/wild horse population may soon be used in B.C.
For now, Nolet’s organization, Critteraid, has a tentative agreement with the Ministry of Natural Resource Operations to rehabilitate some of the feral horses the ministry has sent to auction after rounding them up on Crown land to prevent overgrazing.
Through Project Equus, Nolet is interested in helping more horses but recognizes that rehabilitating them, while possible, is not cheap; she sees administering birth control to the animals as a viable alternative for controlling the feral horse population in her area and across the province.
The vaccine is “birth control” for mares. During the first year the animal requires two injections and in the subsequent years they receive one injection per year.
“You have to take photos and keep very careful documentation of everything,” she says.
But Tl’etinqox (Anaham) Chief and Tsilhqot’in tribal chair Joe Alphonse says many of the feral horses in the Chilcotin are regarded by First Nations as their animals and wouldn’t endorse intervention that might place additional stress on the animals.
“In order to track them down with a tranquilizer gun you’re going to be stressing the animals out chasing them around and maybe causing harm to the animals. In general, we consider a lot of those animals to belong to us as First Nations people in our area.”
Alphonse also expressed concern for ecosystem balance if there are no young horses available for predators.
“If you sterilize these animals pretty soon you’re impacting all other species that also depend on the offspring of horses,” he says.
Feral horses create a land management challenge for ranchers and farmers as well as people living in residential areas, according to Nolet.
“The ranchers want them off because they are eating the grass the cattle could have. The hunters want them off because they are competing with the deer and elk … the horses are on people’s lawns breaking sprinkler heads and creating a hazard on the roadways.”
But Alphonse argues that the horses have been and continue to be an economic mainstay for First Nations during hard times noting they can be sold at auction or trained as saddle horses and sold.
Currently Project Equus has an individual in Montana being trained to administer the vaccine.
Nolet says the prospect of administering the vaccine widely as well as determining funding for it is still a ways off.
“We’re hoping that the province is going to get on board financially to support this. Maybe we do a couple of different pilot projects, maybe where the grass lands and the environment is really being effected. They’ve expressed real interest but we have not had an actual formal meeting with them and that won’t take place for probably about a month or so.”
The vaccine is estimated to cost $25 U.S. per shot.
It is not clear whether the Ministry of Natural Resource Operations removes horses from the Chilcotin as officials did not return calls to press time.
Alphonse says there have been attempts by the government in the past that First Nations’ communities have rebufffed.
“We told them clearly they will be stopped if they seize any animals,” Alphonse says. “We don’t endorse any animal owners to mistreat animals but if they come into an area without our consent and start rounding up our animals we’re going to protect our interests.”