for National Geographic News
The U.S. government has halted its sale of wild horses while it investigates two separate incidents of mustangs being resold for human consumption.
The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) is responsible for managing the 37,000 wild horses on public lands, mainly in Nevada, Oregon, and Wyoming.
The agency's mission changed in December, when Congress passed a bill that made it legal for the BLM to sell wild horses outright.
Supporters of the law said its goal is to reduce the number of horses that BLM keeps in holding facilities and to reduce the agency's horse-care costs (see "U.S. Wild Horse Slaughter Legalization Draws Fire").
Previously the agency had been allowed to sell wild horses, but titles to horses were not turned over until one year later. The lag had allowed BLM staff to check on the horses and to ensure new owners were properly caring for the animals.
The yearlong waiting period also discouraged people from buying wild horses and selling them for profit, since the cost of a year's worth of care and feeding would have canceled out any potential resale profits.
Since December the BLM has sold about a thousand wild horses under the new rules. The slaughtered horses were originally sold to the Rosebud Sioux Indians in South Dakota and to an unnamed Oklahoma man who said he wanted the horses for a church youth program.
The Sioux group bought 105 wild horses at a dollar apiece, then traded 87 of them to a horse broker, who sold some of the horses for slaughter. The Oklahoma man bought six at $50 apiece, according to the BLM. Slaughterhouses are known to pay hundreds of dollars for a horse.
Thirty-five of the Sioux-bought horses and all six of the Oklahoma man's horses ended up at Cavel International in DeKalb, Illinois, where they were slaughtered. One of three foreign-owned slaughterhouses in the United States, Cavel ships horse meat overseas for human consumption.
"We're very upset by what happened," said Tom Gorey, a spokesperson for the BLM. "We're assessing our protocols. We want to make sure that if there are any additional steps we can take to ensure the horses are protected, we take them."
Another 52 horses were scheduled to be slaughtered, but on April 26 the BLM intervened to halt the delivery of the horses. Ford Motor Company, maker of the Mustang car, then paid $20,000 to buy the horses back from Cavel and a horse broker.
Gorey said the rescued horses will go to the Black Hills Wild Horse Sanctuary in Hot Springs, South Dakota.
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