Equine virus complicated by bacterial co-infection killed at least 102 wild horses in less than a week at a captive facility in Colorado, the United States Bureau of Land Management (BLM) said in a statement on Friday.
Every year, the BLM rounds up thousands of wild horses in the United States to control wild horse populations. Some animals get adopted, but most remain in captivity for years. There are almost 60,000 wild horses and a few hundred donkeys in captivity under the bureau’s care.
The outbreak started on April 23 at BLM’s Wild Horse and Burro Corrals in Canon City, where more than 2,500 wild horses are held captive.
According to a veterinarian report, the horses suffered pneumonia-like symptoms characterized by fluid in their lungs, fever, coughing, and breathing difficulties.
PCR tests detected the equine influenza virus in nasal and lung tissue samples taken from several horses. The virus strain, an equine influenza called ‘subtype H3N8,’ is common in both wild and domestic horses, the BLM said. The virus is unrelated to the huge outbreak of bird flu in the country, the bureau added.
“Additional necropsy and laboratory test results confirm pneumonia caused by H3 equine influenza virus complicated by bacterial co-infection as the cause of death,” the bureau said.
The bureau admitted most affected horses were either unvaccinated or only partially vaccinated against equine influenza even though they had been in captivity for months.
While the virus was identified as the likely cause of the horse deaths, smoke inhalation and extremely dusty conditions in the pens where horses were kept may have left them especially susceptible to respiratory infection, a veterinarian report said.
From running free to death in captivity
“This is a tragedy for all involved, but especially for the treasured wild horses who just last summer were running free on our public lands and are now dead,” said Scott Wilson, American Wild Horse Campaign (AWHC) board member, said.
“We cannot continue to round up wild horses from their native habitats, cram them into holding pens and expect a good outcome for the wild horses,” he added.
“This horrible situation should serve as a wake-up call for Congress and our state leaders to demand reform at the Bureau of Land Management, which operates this mismanaged federal program,” Wilson continued.
The AWHC also urged investigators to determine if the sanitation issues at the facility contributed to disease spread, including the bacterial co-infection that was a complicating factor in the deaths.
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