Members of Congress Condemn Barbaric Surgical Sterilization Experiments on Wild Horses

Photo from Flickr by Paul Gorbould
Photo from Flickr by Paul Gorbould

Washington, DC—Congressman Earl Blumenauer (D-OR), co-chair of the Congressional Animal Protection Caucus, led a bipartisan letter signed by 30 members of Congress to Interior Secretary David Bernhardt criticizing the Bureau of Land Management's proposed surgical sterilization experiments on a herd of wild horses from the Warm Springs Herd Management Area in Oregon.

This is the BLM's fourth attempt to proceed with a controversial project designed to quantify the risks and complications—including death—associated with an outdated surgical procedure known as "ovariectomy via colpotomy," which involves manually severing and removing the ovaries of wild mares while the animals remain conscious.

In its comprehensive report to the agency on strategies for improving wild horse management in the United States, the National Academy of Sciences explicitly advised against such surgeries, emphasizing that the "possibility that ovariectomy may be followed by prolonged bleeding or peritoneal infection makes it inadvisable for field application."

As the congressional letter states:

"The BLM is charged with protecting wild horses under the landmark 1971 Wild and Free-Roaming Horses and Burros Act. From a welfare perspective, the 'spay' experiment raises serious concerns. Ovariectomy via colpotomy (where a rod and chain is inserted blindly in order to sever the ovaries) carries risks of infection, trauma, hemorrhage, evisceration, and even death. Indeed, part of the stated experimental goal is to quantify morbidity and mortality. … It seems that the agency understands the risky nature of the procedure, but is nevertheless aiming to quantify precisely how dangerous it is using federally-protected animals. … The risk of infection or other complications is exacerbated by the fact that, by the agency's own admission, the surgeries will be conducted in an operating space that 'may not be entirely sterile.'"

The lawmakers further underscored the lack of independent veterinary oversight and the omission of crucial welfare observations. They urged the BLM to abandon the study and pursue scientifically supported fertility control projects instead – namely the use of humane immunocontraceptive vaccines.

Last week, the Animal Welfare Institute (AWI)—along with the American Wild Horse campaign and The Cloud Foundation—submitted comprehensive comments outlining the numerous legal and ethical problems with this latest iteration of the BLM's surgical sterilization experiments.

 "We are heartened by the support of the members of Congress who have taken a strong stand against the BLM's gruesome and unnecessary ovariectomy experiments," said Dr. Joanna Grossman, equine program manager for AWI. "We appreciate their leadership in urging the BLM to put a permanent end to this misguided research proposal and focus instead on implementing effective and humane fertility control options to manage our nation's wild horses. Thousands of Americans have already voiced their opposition to the BLM concerning the ovariectomy experiments; spending taxpayer dollars to force this project forward would be an affront to the wishes of the public."

Read more about the history of the BLM's "ovariectomy via colpotomy" proposal, as well as AWI's litigation efforts to stop the experiments here:

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Sydney Hearst, (202) 446-2128, [email protected]