Wild burros

A wild burro contraceptive pilot program is nearing the end of its review.

A proposal to treat wild burros in Mohave County with the fertility control drug PZP is gaining traction.

For more than four decades, land management agencies have endured an increasingly difficult challenge of how to control the growth of wild horse and burro populations across the west.

Last year, the Bureau of Land Management allocated $11 million on research projects aimed at curbing wild horse and burro population growth.

The money funds 21 projects aimed at developing new tools for managing healthy horses and burros on healthy rangelands, including effective ways to slow the population growth rate of the animals and reduce the need to remove animals from the public lands.

Tapping into the funding stream locally is a Humane Society of America proposal – in conjunction with the BLM – to treat female burros (jennies) with the fertility control drug PZP (porcine zona pellucida) in the Black Mountain Herd Management Area north of Lake Havasu City.

The proposal is currently under a National Environmental Policy Act review, which BLM anticipates to be completed by late fall.

With a population of about 1,800 burros, nearly four times as many as the established “appropriate management level,” this proposal is a good step forward, said Victoria Anne, BLM, NEPA planning and environmental coordinator.

“What the Humane Society is proposing is to use 115-165 animals during the four-year study that will be divided into four groups with one being a control group,” Anne said.

The control group of 60 burros – labeled group A – will include 10 Jennies (group D) that have long inhabited the town of Oatman.

On the rangeland population, “Bait traps will be used to administer the first round of PZP vaccinations to group B,” Anne said. “This group would receive the first shot and then be kept in a holding facility two weeks at which time they would get a booster shot. After that they would be returned to where they were captured and released.”

Group C, Anne added, would get their first PZP shot and then allowed to immediately go back onto the range.

According to the BLM’s Environmental Assessment, attempts would be made to then apply annual booster shots to all previously treated animals during the length of the project.

“It’s about $30 a shot and this does not include the personnel and time to find the animals, but you have to weigh this against the costs of placing burros in holding facilities,” Anne said.

BLM estimated there were 67,000 wild horses and burros on federal land in 10 states, 2.5 times more than the range can support.

However, government corals and leased pastures are maxed out, where 47,000 horses nationwide cost taxpayers about $50,000 per head over the course of the animals lifetime.

Currently at Arizona’s only holding facility in Florence there are 137 burros and 448 wild horses.

In Mohave County, the burro population has grown to such a degree that earlier this year Supervisor Steve Moss warned if BLM did not take long-term action to control the burro population, the county would pursue legal action against the bureau for not carrying out its statutory duties outlined in the Wild Free-Roaming Horses and Burros Act of 1971.

To meet the growing need, for fiscal year 2015, Congress appropriated more than $77.2 million to the Wild Horse and Burro Program.

Of the total $75.1 million spent, holding costs accounted for $49 million, or 65.7 percent, roundups and removals cost $1.8 million, or 2.4 percent and adoption events cost $6.3 million, or 8.4 percent.

At more than $2.3 billion needed to house and care for the current level of wild horses and burros corralled in government pens for the remainder of their lifetime, many ask if continuing the status quo is fiscally responsible.

Deniz Bolbol, communications director for the American Wild Horse Preservation Campaign applauds the local efforts.

“Burros are much more flexible when it comes to when they breed. They really don’t have an established season as horses do, so it’s important to find out how PZP works for the burros,” Bolbol said. “But, this is something that should have been done years ago. We should already know this information and we are just doing this now in 2016, we are way behind the eight ball, but it is absolutely what should be done. I look forward to seeing the data and I hope it shows PZP is highly affective.”

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(1) comment

Marybeth Devlin

1. Burros are slow to multiply. Gestation lasts an average of 12 months but can extend as long as 14 months. A jenny gives birth to just 1 foal, typically in alternate years. Further, the conception-rate of jennies is lower than that of mares.

2. The burro birth rate is about 14%, but half of foals perish before their first birthday. So, the effective increase in new burro-foals is just 7%. At least 5% of wild burros other-than-foals also die every year. Their death-rate (5%) further reduces the net increase from foals (7%), yielding a herd-growth rate of 2%. Thus, it would take 35 years for a burro-herd to double.

3. BLM's arbitrary management level (AML) for the Black Mountain herd sets the stocking-density at 1 burro per 4 square miles. At 2 burros per 4 square miles, BLM would call them "overpopulated."

4. In the last 3 years, BLM has alleged the following herd-growth rates for the Black Mountain herd: 25% (more than 12 times the norm), 45% (more than 22 times the norm), and 7% (more than 3 times the norm). Such growth is biologically impossible. Please note that the preposterous growth-rate errors compound, as each successive year is calculated based on those that preceded it.

5. BLM is bound by law -- the Data Quality Act -- and by policy -- the Department of the Interior's Code of Scientific and Scholarly Conduct -- to disseminate information obtained through "as rigorous scientific and scholarly processes as can be achieved." However, BLM's data with regard to wild burros is deceitful. The "overpopulation" exists only on BLM's falsified spreadsheets.

6. The Black Mountain burros are, in fact, underpopulated. The International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), the world's oldest and largest global environmental organization, recommends a minimum herd-size of 2,500. The Black Mountain herd is nowhere near that level. Thus, there is no justification for sterilization via PZP.

7. To develop a Final Solution to a concocted crisis, BLM is handing out $11 million for sterilization-studies. The grant money is surely intended to buy loyalty and silence potential criticism from recipients. Plus, BLM gets to cloak itself in respectability by affiliating with prestigious institutions such as universities.

8. HSUS is seeking BLM funding to experimentally inject the Black Mountain wild burros with PZP. But because HSUS is the registrant of PZP, a conflict of interest is apparent. Lacking scientific impartiality, HSUS must be disqualified from being paid to study its sponsored product, and from using taxpayer money to sterilize underpopulated wild burros.

9. PZP is a registered pesticide that was approved by the EPA for use on wild horses and burros "where they have become a nuisance." However, PZP was registered without fulfilling the standard testing requirements, relying merely on what now appear to have been misrepresentations by the manufacturer. There is currently a lawsuit challenging the legitimacy of the registration, especially in light of new studies that have disclosed PZP's many adverse side-effects.

10. PZP causes disease -- auto-immune disease. PZP "works" by tricking the immune system into producing antibodies that destroy the ovaries. The antibodies induce ovarian dystrophy, autoimmune oophoritis, ovarian cysts, destruction of oocytes, and premature ovarian failure. PZP quickly sterilizes jennies that have a strong immune system but has no effect on those suffering from weak immunity. Thus, PZP selects for low immune function. Worse yet, radioimmunoassay tests indicated that PZP antibodies are transferred from mother to female offspring via the placenta and milk.

11. The EPA Pesticide Fact Sheet warns women that accidental self-injection with PZP may cause infertility. Unfortunately, the manufacturer misrepresented PZP as "so safe it is boring” -- even though research showed it to be a powerful hormone-disruptor. If darters think PZP is safe, they will be less likely to take precautions against this dangerous pesticide.

12. PZP is a potent weapon in BLM's arsenal -- for its biological warfare against the wild burros. But sterilization of wild burros is unnecessary because there is no overpopulation. Why would we sterilize a herd whose numbers are inadequate for genetic viability? Why would we sterilize a herd based on falsified figures? Logically we wouldn't and ethically we shouldn't.

13 The experiments-at-issue call for the jennies to be captured and then transported to a holding facility for injection with PZP. They would be held captive for the next several weeks in order to administer a second "booster" shot of PZP. Most (70 to 100) of the jenny-subjects would be freeze-branded with three digits on both hips for convenience in identifying them. The ugly freeze-marks are 3½ or 4 inches high, and the letters are wide. They ruin a jenny's appearance for the rest of her life.

14 Burros do have natural predators, among them mountain lions and coyotes. Both species are present in Black Mountain HMA. If BLM believes that inadequate numbers of predators prevent them from fulfilling their population-control function, then it should conserve them.

15. The mortality rate of captive mustangs runs about 8% a year. Because they do not reproduce, their numbers steadily decline, showing that BLM's billion-dollar figure for their care is just another Lie. BLM has since multiplied the $1 billion figure by 230%, amplifying the fraud.

16. BLM can reopen the 22 million acres of wild-horse-and-burro habitat that it took away for political expediency. Cost: $0.

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