Written by: Heather Clemenceau
A mix of nearly 600 feral and privately owned horses were counted on Penticton Indian Band (PIB) lands in March during an aerial survey that’s expected to feature in the development of a new plan to manage their numbers. The horses that roam the southern Okanagan Valley in British Columbia have become a safety risk and a burden to local homeowners, and the problem is multiplying. The PIB is embroiled in a debate with both government, animal advocates and residents in the area who are seeing more branded horses venturing onto roads and residences. Many are in horrific conditions – virtually walking skeletons.
The concerns by other horse owners and residents are numerous. People riding their horses in the Penticton area are afraid because feral stallions chase them. On the occasion that privately owned horses have gotten loose and mingled with the feral herds, it’s been difficult to retrieve them because some band members claim people are stealing band horses. In winter many are simply being allowed to starve to death. Adding to the problem is the issue of many newborn foals that are being abandoned and must be fostered by various caring advocates. But helping the horses has been difficult mostly due to issues arising from their ownership. Most area residents claim that about 2/3rd’s of the horses are branded by Two Buck Pierre of the PIB, who, according to them, either lacks the ability or the will to keep them penned and appropriately fed.
The provincial BC government won’t offer the feral horses any sort of protection due to their status as feral, and the native band takes the curious position that they are both simultaneously owned and un-owned. The provincial Ministry of Water, Land and Air Protection does not have a policy on free-roaming horses because their jurisdiction is under the Wildlife Act, which does not recognize these horses as wildlife and therefore deems them to be undeserving of consideration. Because they were once domesticated, they are not considered wild in the way that bears, wolves, deer and cougars are wild.
In the past, the PIB seems to have little incentive to change their approach to managing the horses. When there are problems with horses venturing down onto the roads then the band has claimed they are feral. The band does not like to lay claim to the horses (unless it benefits them to do so in the case of slaughter or selling them as rodeo stock) so that is why they call them free roaming or feral, in order that they are not held responsible. Yet the majority are branded with the initials “JP” for Two Buck Pierre and are owned primarily by a few families on the reserve. The band knows exactly who the owners are but they deliberately downplay the numbers in an effort to get the taxpayer to pay for managing them. PIB Councillor Dolly Kruger lists herself as having 10 horses in the report included below, but privately acknowledges having about 40.
One can only wonder how the band can therefore legally round up horses for slaughter that they normally claim not to own (despite most being branded). In 2009 there was a mass slaughter, which is income to the band. The Bouvry plant was paying up to 45 cents per pound in June of this year. So, an average 1,000 pound per horse equates to about $400 at slaughter, and if the band culls 300, that would average $120,000 in each year of a cull. To add insult to injury, the band also wants the taxpayer to pay them wages to round up their own branded horses so they can benefit from the proceeds of slaughter. This being the case, there seems to be little justification for asking taxpayers to pay for fencing the horses when the band could pay for it themselves with the proceeds from slaughter.
This study (below) by the Regional District of Okanagan-Similkameen (RDOS) is the closest anyone has ever come to having Chief and Council admit to the fact that the majority of these horses are owned by band members. Currently proposed options to manage herd sizes range from rounding up animals for slaughter to sterilizing them with contraceptive PZP, then erecting fencing to keep them out of populated areas. PIB Chief Kruger and the chief before him want a fence that will keep people out of the reservation. They have been trying to get the provincial government to pay for one for at least 20 years. While this will keep the horses off private property and out of traffic, it will not improve their standard of living unless their numbers are humanely reduced or more food is available. Advocates including Theresa Nolet of O.A.T.S (One At Time Success) Horse Rescue have offered to raise funds for PZP and its administration, however the Chief and Council apparently want to work with RDOS and horse owners only.
The RDOS has estimated a cost of $1,000 dollars per horse for the PZP with wages etc. They have not independently fact-checked these costs. Theresa Nolet has researched the costs involved in using PZP and was quoted approximately $300 to $400 for individual wild horses, which most of these are not. The prevailing belief amongst horse advocates is that the cost estimates are on the extravagant side in order to “persuade” the public that the slaughter cull is the only appropriate path to take.
It is hoped that a cost-effective, permanent fix can be agreed-upon that does not include slaughtering the horses. Councillor Dolly Kruger has acknowledged that “…there are so many studs out there and because there is so much inbreeding going on out there right now… they’re not healthy,” Kruger suggested the most prudent course of action would see one or two round-ups of horses for slaughter, followed by regular sterilization of mares using dart guns that deliver contraceptive drugs. Members of the project team expect to produce a draft plan later this year and implementation in early 2015 if everything goes as hoped. The plan is expected to include a call for fencing, corrals, feeding stations and/or a cull but a vaccination program for contraception is favoured.
The areas the horses reside in is not a wild range and these horses are not truly wild. Therefore, it is unacceptable to simply stand back and do nothing while observing the horses, who are not thriving in this environment, venture onto private property to find food, get hit by cars, only to ultimately starve to death in the winter. The band uses them for profit when it is convenient and leaves them to suffer when it is felt that there is no financial return to be made.
If a horse is branded it is traceable back to its owner, and in a just world that person would be found, charged with a criminal offence, fined heavily or jailed, and prohibited from future animal possession. If private individuals allowed their horses to wander the roadways, the SPCA would certainly act upon it, but they take no action whatsoever when PIB branded horses are observed to be starving or injured.