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Disease outbreak at Utah facility cancels wild horse adoption event

‘Strangles’ is highly contagious respiratory disease

SHARE Disease outbreak at Utah facility cancels wild horse adoption event
One of Dirk Johnson’s photographs of horses in Onaqui herd.

Dirk Johnson

DELTA — An outbreak of a highly contagious respiratory disease among wild horses at the Delta facility in central Utah forced the Bureau of Land Management to quarantine the animals and cancel a Nov. 1 adoption event.

“Strangles” was first detected midmonth in horses gathered from the Onaqui Herd Management Area near Dugway in Tooele County in September.

There have been no deaths from the disease, but the the horses are being tested and monitored by the Utah Department of Agriculture and the state veterinarian. The federal agency coordinated the testing of infected animals with the Utah Veterinary Diagnostic Laboratory.

“The BLM takes the health of every wild horse and burro seriously. Facility staff and the contract veterinarian will monitor the Delta facility horses closely. After all signs of infection have passed, the quarantine will be lifted and horses ready for the January adoption,” said Gus Warr, manager of the Utah Wild Horse and Burro Program.

Strangles, or equine distemper, is a bacterial infection that is extremely common. Symptoms include wheezing, coughing, fever and nasal discharge. It has an incubation period of up to 14 days, but infected horses can transmit the disease for up to six weeks post recovery.

Warr said the adoption of the Onaqui animals will be rescheduled for early next year after the horses have been given the all-clear.

The BLM has been accelerating its schedule of roundups to get more horses off the range, and ideally into adoptable homes.

Earlier this year, it implemented an incentive program in which eligible adopters are paid $500 at the time of adoption and another $500 once they take title to the horse.

Last week, BLM officials said the adoption program experienced stepped up interest, with 7,104 horses and burros placed into homes. It represented a 54% increase over last year’s numbers.

The agency also plans to do increased fertility control.

This week, the National Wild Horse and Burro Advisory Board is meeting in Washington, D.C., to discuss the pressing challenges of wild horse and burro populations. There are nearly 90,000 horses and burros scattered throughout 10 Western states. The BLM says the “appropriate” population should be less than 27,000.