Boy, has it been a month or what? Such a month necessitates that I crawl out from the rock I was hiding under. Don’t get me wrong, I realize that I’m not going to offer any monumental, mind-blowing commentary. It’s more of an … itch. Some folks in the wild horse realm are wrong, wrong, wrong and my skin is crawling to call them out on their garbage. Better late than never?
So I’ll start this blog off by talking about the jerkiest thing of all to happen this month. The BLM’s Advisory Board met and in the course of the yammering and complaining 8 out of 9 members voted to recommend the BLM euthanize the horses in Long Term Holding… aka they wanted the BLM to kill about 45,000 of them.
Now at this point all of that is old news. We have been there, done that, and already listened while the BLM reassured us that would never happen. Never mind the BLM themselves were discussing ways to go about doing just that a couple years ago…
Either way it did confirm what I have suspected for some time: The Advisory Board is pointless. No, really. They have no authority and even less credibility at this point. How many ideas have the Advisory Board come up with all by themselves without any suggestions or advice from the BLM before the meeting? And of the suggestions that the Advisory Board does make, how many of them are things that the BLM wasn’t already going to try anyway?
At the end of the day, they matter about as much as a “keyboard warrior” like I do.
… Did I get that right? I’ll be honest, here. I couldn’t be bothered to read Ben Master’s post trying to justify horse murder… kinda like how I couldn’t be bothered to finish watching the hot mess that was Unbranded. Ohhhh snap.
My understanding is that the whole poopshow of an idea was budget related. The Advisory Board cares so much that they just absolutely must help the BLM to free up their budget – a budget which has doubled in the past decade. Funny how removing 10,000+ horses for several years in a row didn’t work out so good for them in the long term.
Actually, it kind of makes me want to play chess with the BLM and/or the Advisory Board sometime. I’m not a very good chess player, but playing against people who can’t so much as think two moves ahead? I betcha I could make bank in side bets. And bank is desperately needed right now so… (please someone hire me soon)
Let’s say their plan succeeded. I know, it makes me vomit in my mouth a bit too. But we will say that with snap of their fingers, 45,000 horses are gone and 50 million in their budget is freed up. Now what?
No, really, what’s the plan?
Oh, yeah, that’s right. There was no plan. There was no phase two; no way to “fix” what the BLM thinks to be “broken”. It’s weird, but it’s almost having lots of money to play with does not instantly mean you know what you’re doing or that you can actually make good use of those funds.
The reality is that they would only be killing those horses to make room so they could remove even more horses. That 50 million would instantly go to more roundups – as many roundups as possible. The horses would stockpile again and four years from now we would be hearing, “Oh, this situation is so much worse than we thought it would be so, ah, we’re just gonna kill all the horses again. Oops?”
Great job, guys. A regular bunch of Einsteins, this Advisory Board is.
It’s funny too, because that’s the accusation that pro-BLMers like to bring against advocates like me all the time. That we are overemotional women crying & screaming behind our computers about the fate of the poor widdle horseys but are too dumb to come up with solutions to the “wild horse problem”. Seriously, is it just me or do most pro-BLMers come off as really, really condescending?
My response to that kind of nonsense is pretty simple though: I don’t need to come up with solution. We already have one. Think about it. The Advisory Board and the BLM think there are too many horses. They killed off all the predators in these remote areas and are now wringing their hands that a prey species like the horse makes babies too quickly. Well, wait a minute. Don’t we have a way to slow down foaling rates? One that doesn’t require horrific and dangerous procedures like genital mutilation i.e. spaying?
Ohhh yeah. We kinda do. It’s called PZP.
So let’s talk about PZP, shall we? In June, The Cloud Foundation paid to send me up to Billings to take a PZP training class with The Science and Conservation Center aka the guys responsible for creating and implementing the stuff. Thus I return a fountain of knowledge with a lot of feelings.
Let me tell you, Kim Franks gives one heck of a good class and it’s really quite affordable – 10/10 I would recommend taking it if you can!
I know there’s a lot of confusion about PZP out there, so why not try to show what I learned be it good, bad, or ugly? (Though fair warning, most of the ugly is waiting for a part two cuz boy is this getting long!)
In order to do this right we have to brush over the basics.
What is PZP?
A cute little acronym for porcine (pig) zona pellucida. Moving on!
Okay, kidding. PZP is a drug that blocks a mare from getting pregnant for a year; a drug which can be administered to mares in the wild. For our purposes we will be talking about regular PZP and not the 2 year form, since that stuff it a hot mess.
How to Use PZP
With thoughtfulness, patience, and a gun.
The PZP itself is a liquid. Said liquid is mixed with an adjuvant then immediately stuck in a dart which can be fired at a horse with a gun. A dart gun is sort of like a real gun only, y’know, with darts. There is, of course, a minor twist. You don’t want to shoot a hole through the horses hip, so you need to control the force behind the shot. Dart guns come in a wide range of forms including basic delivery methods like a blowgun. The most practical types are either cartridge or CO2 rifles. The type of cartridge you insert or the amount of CO2 you add determine how powerful the shot is.
The goal is to use as little oomph as necessary – you want to just barely break the skin, not shoot the dart through one hip and out the other. So you as the darter need to judge the distance the horse is via range finder and set the gun up with its parameters for how hard to fire.
That’s a very basic overview and each gun is different, but trust me when I say it’s not that hard. *cough* unless your Ben Masters and your aim is completely rubbish *cough*
I really should stop now. I know there’s 7 other people I should be picking on too. But they’re really old and boring, and Mr. Masters was actually in the class with me so I have a reference for these pot shots. Wait, is it a pot shot if it’s true? Anyway, picking on him is like shooting fish out of a barrel… actually, no. I’m not sure he could pull that one off either.
The Science of PZP as Written By Someone Who Does Not Science Good and Wants to Do Other Things Good Too
Every mammal has this membrane around their eggs, a zona pellucida. That bit is what decides whether or not to let a sperm have a go at fertilizing the egg. So basically it helps ensure that horse and a tiger don’t have the ability to create some weird mutant baby together. Though that would be a pretty sweet hybrid… A hoiger? Tigorse?
PZP works like a vaccine. Proteins obtained from pig eggs are combined with an adjuvant and introduced into the horses bloodstream. The horses immune system sees the pig gunk as bad and creates short-term antibodies to fight and get rid of the pig gunk. The pig gunk, though, is relatively similar to the horses own gunk. So those short-term antibodies also see the horses own zona pellucida as close enough to the pig gunk that the antibodies go after the horses egg too. The sperm then cannot “get in” to the egg to fertilize it, since the antibodies are in the receptors where the sperm is supposed to be.
Now the key here is the “short term” part. This is why PZP needs to be given annually. Those little short-term cells will move on to fight other things if the vaccine isn’t re-upped. Hence, over the course 11 months the effect will gradually wear off so a mare can become fertile once more.
And let me tell you Becky, this but is soooo big and it’s just round and out there: if a mare is given enough doses, PZP will render her infertile permanently. This is definitely a problem for those of us that want to ensure a herd will have longevity and continue to be there for our kids, grandkids, great-grandkids, etc.
You may have heard that PZP becomes irreversible after a mare is given the drug for 5 years in a row. That’s… mostly true.
In reality, it is closer to5-7 years for true 100% permanency in every mare. However, it becomes pretty darn permanent for quite a few mares after 4 years of doses. The class taught that if you want a mare to foal again then you should leave them on PZP for no more than 3 years. After those 3 years are up, you MUST NOT give that mare any PZP at all until they produce a foal. That second part is critical to remember. For some mares it can take up to 8 years for the PZP to reverse. Eight years! So that mare who went 5 years off PZP without ever having a foal? Yeah, it may not be her fault if she doesn’t foal. It sure as heck isn’t nature taking its course.
If you are a Pryor fan you might be raising your eyebrow to the above. You should be raising that eyebrow. A part two is coming to discuss PZP as it applies to the current Pryor herd EA. Don’t worry, it’ll be way shorter than this part.
For non-Pryor fans… you’re crazy for not being a Pryor fan but I love you anyway.
A Few More Important Things to Know
For all that it is effective, PZP is a finicky bugger. The PZP itself has to be kept frozen right up until the time you plan to inject it into the horse, and the adjuvant has to be kept cool and separate from the PZP. The person who is darting a horse with PZP has to defrost and thoroughly mix the PZP and the adjuvant right before they go out to dart the mare. At most, you can make three batches at a time and you have to be careful to use them right away. They can’t be stored for any length of time without the adjuvant separating and the stuff being useless.
On top of all that, making PZP is a long and involved process. It takes a week to make a single batch and it all has to be done carefully and by hand. If the PZP is not completely pure, then bad stuff can happen. Even then, though, The Science and Conservation Center has years worth of the stuff waiting to be bought. So stock is not an issue. They also keep careful records of each batch they make and where it goes as a form of Quality Control.
So absolutely nothing I explained above is difficult. It might be a bit of a struggle to mix the PZP out in the field with the blowing wind and snows, but on the whole all of this is really, really easy. So easy a person like me could be trusted to do it!
The tough part is the horses themselves. You want to get as close as possible before firing the dart. In addition to that, a good understanding of band dynamics is the difference between darting them all successfully and coughing on their metaphorical dust after a huffy lead mare leads the band away in annoyance. The point being that horse sense is more important to the process than gun knowledge or an expert understanding of biology.
I suspect that is the part where the BLM balks. Heck, I can practically hear them scoffing. Sure it’s easy to dart a horse in a place like the Pryors or McCullough, but there’s no way you’ll get close enough to a wild horse in Nevada. I know, I know. It’s a weak excuse. We have to remember that a lot of these folks only spend time on the range when they’re forced to, or when they want to find the worst possible cow and sheep ravaged riparian area in a hundred miles so they can take a quick photo and use it as their “proof” of overpopulation.
I could almost buy that excuse back when I was a newbie at this. But I’ve seen what a couple years of consistent passive interaction can do to the most skittish of lead mares in White Mountain. Horses in the Pryors and Sand Wash didn’t mellow to human presence instantly. A few devoted horse lovers took the time go up there and to keep visiting until the horses began to adapt. If the BLM would take a portion of their roundup funds to have boots on the ground, acclimating horses to people in the summer, fall, and winter then darting at the end of winter and in early spring would be completely possible.
Because if I was the BLM, that’s how I would spend my money. I would take part of the roundup budget and apply it to putting boots on the ground. I’d pay local teens $10-15 an hour to go out on weekends and just quietly sit with the horses and operate bait traps around water sources, so the horses learn that gate panels and humans are a normal part of their lives.
Then I would go hire and train temps in the winter time. I’d get them certified to dart PZP and teach them how to work a bait trap. They’d have their own quadrants for darting and a camera to document the horses they do dart. I would take the photos from years previous to create a binder with photos and descriptions of horses they are not supposed to dart so the herd can stay genetically viable. I’d give my employees a way to mark mares who were already darted – maybe fling some non-toxic paint across the fence onto their butts before releasing them or something similar (that part is a work in progress).
The Wild Horse Specialist can use his time to drive around and monitor his assistants instead of being stuck at yet another roundup, standing over a shoot deciding which horses get to remain free and which to doom.
Because that my friends, is a plan. It’s taking the resources available and using them in a, relatively speaking, cost-effective way. Is it a perfect plan? Heck no! It’s idealistic. Implementation would be a bear, especially right at the beginning. Some of my ideas would annoy the BLM and I know that there are advocates out there who would disagree with me too. I can’t blame them – there are parts of it I don’t feel entirely okay with.
But you know what this isn’t? It isn’t murdering horses. It isn’t throwing them down in the dirt to spay them, then closing your eyes & covering your ears when those mares die from infection a week later. It definitely isn’t a cockemamy scheme to kill horses by the tens of thousands because I was too much of a dumb ass to realize the market wouldn’t adopt out the 10,000 wild horses I was removing every year.
The fact is that the BLM is going to keep playing God with horses’ lives. I can’t stop it. I don’t think anyone can stop it. Those kind of games are the federal governments bread and butter.
But if you’re gonna play God, then at least do it right. Take the time to care about the lives you are tampering with. See them as more than numbers, more than bugs to be squashed underfoot by unfeeling a-holes. PZP gives more horses a shot at living a good life, free from the dirt pens of BLM holding and the constant obsessive roundups that remove adults and elderly horses just as much as they take yearlings and two year olds. And from that perspective, it deserves a better shot than what the BLM is currently giving.