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Court order spares 6 foals and mothers

SHARE Court order spares 6 foals and mothers

The lives of six wild foals that tested positive for a deadly disease have been spared by a temporary restraining order issued by a federal judge in Washington, D.C., and the Utah office of the Bureau of Land Management has now taken it one step further.

"We have decided to keep the (infected) mothers alive, too," said Glenn Foreman, BLM spokesman for the wild horse project. "We have determined the mares are the best caretakers of those foals until we can determine whether or not they might infect their babies."The decision not to euthanize the mares, which is mandatory in all cases where the horses test positive for equine infectious anemia, puts the BLM at odds with state veterinarian Mike Marshall, who had ordered all of the infected animals be destroyed by 5 p.m. Monday.

"The (BLM) decision was made prior to the temporary restraining order that we would keep the foals as long as we could," Foreman added, "and that we would defy Dr. Marshall's order. We agree with all of his other prescriptions, and so does the public and the special interest groups. But we decided to be at odds with him on this matter involving the foals."

On Monday evening, the BLM destroyed 15 infected horses, and the agency is awaiting further orders from Marshall to destroy another five animals Tuesday. Initial test results on more than 100 additional horses are expected Tuesday afternoon. Those that test positive for the disease will be given a second test, the results of which should be known by Wednesday.

Equine infectious anemia, also known as swamp fever, is transmitted by blood-sucking insects. Thirty percent of the horses that are infected die from the disease and the remainder become carriers.

In Utah, one to three horses out of 7,000 tested every year are usually found to have the disease. Last March, tests on 200 animals in a free-roaming herd of horses on the Ute reservation revealed a 14 percent infection rate, prompting the BLM and the Ute tribe to test all wild and free-roaming horses in eastern Utah.

Last week, tests on a wild horses in the Bonanza area indicated about 50 percent of the horses were infected.

The destruction of the infected horses has prompted criticism from animal rights advocates, but nothing compared to the public outcry that resulted when Marshall ordered that six infected foals be destroyed.

On Monday afternoon, U.S. District Court Judge Gladys Kessler granted the request by the International Society for the Protection of Mustangs and Burros for a reprieve pending a hearing June 8. The temporary restraining order applies only to the foals.

Veterinarian Alexis Wallace argued in court documents that the foals may have tested positive for the disease because antibodies from the virus are transmitted when the foals nurse from infected mares.

Marshall said 70 percent of foals who test positive for the antibodies eventually develop the disease. Postponing the euthanization jeopardizes other horses, he said.

Meanwhile, the BLM continues to negotiate with out-of-state research institutions to accept the foals. Colorado State University in Fort Collins is among the institutions being considered. The BLM also works closely with an organization out of Las Vegas that works to save orphaned foals.

The mothers of the infected foals will be killed after the foals are moved out of state.

Until that time, the BLM has separated the foals and their mothers from the group of wild horses that tested positive for the disease, as well as those that are free of disease.

The quarantined herds are located on a ridge with plenty of wind to reduce the chance that insects will transmit the disease from one group to another. But time is of critical concern, Foreman said.

"In the next few weeks, as the weather gets warmer, we are expecting some difficulty with insects," he said. "We are doing are darndest (to keep the disease from spreading)."