Wild horse birth control or sterility? Tainted horse groups push for drugs amid warnings
Updated: Apr 5
By Staci-lee Sherwood
Wild horses don’t need birth control (but we humans sure do). A prime example of a species that is vastly over populated, decimates the land, rapidly depletes natural resources look no further than our own species. In truth we are the only species that falls into this category. We know deep down there are too many people for the natural resources to support. We ignore this truth choosing instead to find others to blame for the fast extinguishing of life on this planet.
Warning signs have been there for decades yet we persist in our over breeding and over using of what nature provides. We knew back in the 70s we were polluting our own drinking water knowing it could never be cleaned up, driving countless species to the brink and sometimes over the edge of extinction. As a culture this did not deter us and at times seemed to propel us as a country to go even further down the rabbit hole of hoarding.
For many, ego forbids them from admitting they have failed. This is particularly true when it comes to wildlife. Somehow we got it into our heads that our own species did not need managing but every other species does. The mindset that fosters this type of skewed vision of the world and perverts our relationship with nature is killing us and everything around us. We are nature it’s not something we go visit. This disconnect is how we find ourselves at a point where it’s accepted policy to kill wolf pups nursing in a den, contaminate our own food and water and remove native wild horses from their native range then shoot them up with experimental birth control drugs. How did we ever get to this point of insanity?
It’s a racket. Taxpayer funding for the Bureau of Land Management’s (BLM) Wild Horse & Burro Program (WH&B) commands an annual budget of over $150,000,000. That is serious funding, some might say the kind that invites theft, fraud and corruption. A budget like this is impossible to keep track of and perhaps this is by design. The BLM has long been thought to be one of, if not the most, corrupt agencies in the entire Federal Government. That is quite an achievement considering the stiff competition in the corruption racket with such notables like Dept of Defense, Dept of Agriculture and the Food and Drug Administration thought to be a close second.
The use of birth control as a bargaining chip is a failed argument. Many horse advocacy groups fall back on the excuse of saying the fertility program is a bargaining tool. Back in 2017 many advocates and supporters thought these non profits; Humane Society (HSUS),Return to freedom (RTF), American Society for Prevention of Cruelty Animals (ASPCA) were going to champion the issues of wild horses and burros and elevate their plight to the level of urgent importance it always was. They failed miserably yet cling to the tired myth this will end roundups. That lie was sold to the public and financial supporters of these non profits and other advocate groups that jumped on their bandwagon. Anyone who has worked with the BLM or even just observes their actions know there is virtually nothing that will stop the roundups. Supporting the use of birth control accepts the narrative pushed by ranchers and energy companies via the mouths of the government. The use of birth control go hand in hand with the ‘Path forward’ agenda that leads to extinction. While victory has many owners failure is always an orphan.
Never mind what was hoped for during negotiations between the chosen stakeholders back in 2017. The list of the participants reads like a who’s who in the ranching/energy sectors void of any genuine horse and burro advocates. HSUS has a long history of fraud people keep forgetting, ASPCA hasn’t done much for wildlife in decades. The only non profit just representing wild horses was RTF who has since back peddled with whiny claims they didn’t know that the government would just do their own thing. The American Mustang Foundation is a front for energy interests.
The ‘Path Forward’ set the tone for the unscientific basis of using AML’s to determine how many horses get to stay in a particular area. The aml stands for average monthly level which in laymen’s term means number of horses and burros. This number was concocted between ranchers and the BLM to see how few horses they can get away with leaving on the range so it doesn’t look completely wiped out all at once. The plan in 2017 was to take a few years slowly increasing the numbers of horses and burros removed in each roundup while increasing the use of toxic birth control drugs knowing eventually it would lead to birth defects and sterility. That is the true intent of the ‘Path forward’ and it’s working. ‘The Equid Specialist Group of the International Union for Conservation of Nature’s Species Survival Commission recommends minimum populations of 2,500 individuals for the conservation of genetic diversity. Currently, no single herd management area on public lands has a minimal viable population for the long term. ‘ Click here to read the full article : https://friendsofanimals.org/news/what-pzp-pushers-dont-want-you-to-know/?fbclid=IwAR2xnAVOF6SDtVzV_Jb8q8KY5GQfhFG5ku639vGqOOmbgufIwepUdBzPNzc
A lengthy report by the National Research Council of the National Academies of Sciences. 2013. “Using Science to Improve the BLM Wild Horse and Burro Program: A Way Forward” had two key findings of interest and the full report is here: https://www.nap.edu/read/13511/chapter/4#33
(1) “…the statistics on the national population size cannot be considered scientifically rigorous,”
(2) “How AML’s are established, monitored, and adjusted is not transparent to stakeholders, supported by scientific information, or amendable to adaptation with new information and environmental and social change.
If you thought peer reviewed scientific research using verified independent sources were conducting the experiments that is not the case. In 2017 a GAO report noted that no studies have been conducted separating out the impacts to rangelands from wild horses and cattle, US Government Accountability Office Report, Animal Welfare: 2017 “Information on the US Horse.” Copy and paste for the report:
Gonacon comes with a lot of serious warnings how safe can it really be? The loudest of the horse non profits – American Wild Horse Campaign (AWHC) and RTF have been pushing using PZP as a way to stop the roundups and save our horses. They only push the PZP which HSUS owns the patent to and was originally designed for female White-tailed deer not horses. They seem to be tone deaf when asked about Gonacon usage. In my conversation with Jenny Lesieutre, BLM WHB Nevada public relations officer told me in our phone conversation that they “have been using Gonacon for two years but haven’t gotten around to putting out the press release to the public.” Ask most people they are unaware it’s being used or to what extent. Lesieutre also said if Gonacon hits the gut of the mare instead of the rear it can be deadly.
What exactly would the ‘other’ ingredients be? We know our federal agencies Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and Food and Drug Administration (FDA) have been hijacked, seemingly willingly, by corporate interests. They have zero credibility when they approve a chemical, drug or product. In fact the EPA and FDA are little more than huge bureaucratic filing systems for some of the most deadly chemicals ever put into our food, water and drugs. We need not look any further than our history with Asbestos, Roundup and Oxycontin to see how ineffective our so called watchdog agencies are.
The USDA’s involvement with making Gonacon seems all the proof one needs to know this is not a genuine birth control drug but a sterility drug in disguise. More disturbing are the experiments going on wild horses at Teddy Roosevelt National Park (TRNP). Their once genetically diverse herd is now inbred with health problems. Their long term survival is in question. This is most likely due to the use of birth control that has destroyed the horses own ability to pick a genetically viable mate.
At the Free-Roaming Horse and Burro Fertility Control Workshop held on November 8, 2018 in Albuquerque, NM. Experiments on wild horses at Teddy Roosevelt National Parks was discussed with enlightening and disturbing kernels of truth mostly kept from the public. "Through our research, all of which has been shared on our Facebook page and is being continually updated on our website, showed us that the “research” being done in TRNP was being done for reasons beyond the horses in TRNP. The plan was always to continue to experiment on our horses until they were able to find the right dosage of GonaCon that would permanently sterilize mares. Once they found that dosage, they could take that, along with the new remote darting system that the TRNP horses were also subjected to experimentation on, out west to sterilize mares out on the range.“ At the same conference that Dr. Dan Baker proudly spoke at, Dr. Jenny Powers also spoke proudly about this remote darting system being developed to use on the wild horses on the western range. Links to both videos can be found on this website: https://chwha.org/library/
Does anyone know how often ‘accidental’ injection happens? There is no transparency no oversight. If it sterilizes deer what about horses?
Would you take a pesticide as birth control? If you wouldn’t take it yourself you should not be using it on other species, especially with no follow up medical care. A chemical registered with EPA does not mean it’s safe this is merely a filing number for them.
Gonacon products are classified by EPA as restricted-use pesticides. Since these products are restricted-use, all users must be certified pesticide applicators or be under the supervision of a certified pesticide applicator. ‘’Human Health and Ecological Risk Assessment for the Use of Wildlife Damage Management Methods by USDA-APHIS-Wildlife Services Chapter XI The Use of GonaCon in Wildlife Damage Management August 2017.” We know this is not the case at the BLM they use veterinarians which are not the same. We have many studies of the dangers human birth control pills do when they get released into the water and the damage they do to aquatic life. Is Gonacon more dangerous? If one needs to wear protective gear when administering this to a living creature how safe is it really?
Las Vegas channel 8 News Now did a report about Gonacon. Click here for their report : https://www.8newsnow.com/i-team/i-team-fertility-program-aims-to-control-nevadas-growing-wild-horse-population-humanely/
‘GonaCon has caused injection-site and lymph node reactions, which include abscesses, nodules, swelling and stiffness from the water-in-oil emulsions containing mycobacteria such as AdjuVac’ (Gionfriddo et al. 2011), but not in all studies (Gray et al. 2010). ‘2017 Human Health and Ecological Risk Assessment for the Use of Wildlife Damage Management Methods by USDA-APHIS-Wildlife Services Chapter XI The Use of GonaCon in Wildlife Damage Management August 2017’
How safe is PZP when it’s made with pig protein? According to a 2018 study multiple doses of PZP leads to sterility yet groups raising donations conveniently forget this important piece of science. This is the study :
‘Consequences of porcine zona pellucida immunocontraception to feral horses ‘ by Cassandra M. V. Nunez, 2310 Pammel Drive, 339 Science Hall II, Iowa State University.
‘However, an important caveat was made; on average, mares receiving 4–5 consecutive treatments took 4.4 years to return to fertility (range = 1–8 years), and those receiving 7 consecutive treatments did not return to fertility during a 7-year, treatment-free interval (Kirkpatrick and Turner 2002). These results should have served as a warning to managers that more aggressive treatment could grossly aff ect future fertility in treated mares (potentially limiting future management options); however, such caution seems to have been taken only rarely (Ransom et al. 2013, Nuñez et al. 2017). ‘
The entire argument was and is the use of PZP and PZP-22 will stop roundups, it’s safe and reversible. Roundups will never stop, safety depends on how much you trust a government known to commit fraud, destroy documents and lie. This is the governments description for using PZP. Therefore by default when you use or support the use on wild horses you accept this misleading narrative ‘ will be used to control female wild and feral horse and burros privately or publicly owned, in areas where they have become a nuisance and are capable of doing environmental damage. ‘ Copy and paste here for report: chrome-extension://efaidnbmnnnibpcajpcglclefindmkaj/viewer.html?pdfurl=https%3A%2F%2Fwww3.epa.gov%2Fpesticides%2Fchem_search%2Freg_actions%2Fpending%2Ffs_PC-176603_01-Jan-12.pdf&clen=196973&chunk=true
According to investigations by Friends of Animals it didn’t surprise them “that a lot of the research touting the advantages of PZP has been conducted by those with a vested interest in it— the Humane Society of the United States, which has to approve the use of PZP on wild horse herds—and Jay Kirkpatrick, HSUS consultant for contraception and director of the Science and Conservation Center in Billings, Montana, which produces the active ingredient in PZP.” A grant of $1.7 million from the Annenberg Foundation to try out the longer lasting PZP-22 at Cedar Mountains and Sand Wash Basin might have something to do with support. Click here for the report:
Not everyone is sold on the safety of PZP. In 2020 Karen Sussman decided to speak out against PZP. As head of the International Society for the Protection of Mustangs and Burros, Sussman did use PZP in 2007 because the ranch did not have room to sustain the growth rate of the Catnip Herd. She discontinued using PZP after she realized it causes infertility after five years.“We stopped PZP in 2012 because we are a conservation program protecting rare and endangered herds. If they can’t breed, then they are not in conservation. None of the mares that had five years of PZP has had a foal yet.” This has now been 8 years later. To read the full story click here:
https://friendsofanimals.org/news/what-pzp-pushers-dont-want-you-to-know/?fbclid=IwAR2xnAVOF6SDtVzV_Jb8q8KY5GQfhFG5ku639vGqOOmbgufIwepUdBzPNzc. Protect the Mustangs agrees there are too many questions about why the non profits are such staunch supporters of birth control. “It’s time to hold everyone accountable who is pushing risky PZP drugs—made from slaughterhouse pig ovaries,” said Anne Novak, president of Protect Mustangs.
Another concern is where the pig ovaries come from. The claim is from commercial slaughterhouses but that could include feral pigs also slaughtered there. Despite concern expressed about cross contamination of disease and parasites between these two groups of pigs cost is always priority #1. The number of inspectors has dropped since 2000 so there won't be much oversight to count on. As demand for wild game increases so to will the use of the same slaughterhouse for both domestic and feral pigs. Many state agencies use GonaCon on a variety of species they want to get rid of including feral pigs. Therefore another concern would be ovaries used in PZP could already be contaminated with GonaCon.
The AWHC uses volunteers to dart wild horses on the Virginia Range. They say they get training from the Science Center in Billings, Montana where they manufacture PZP. Why not use licensed veterinarians or at least wildlife biologists with field experience with wild horses? While this may seem like a cost saving venture one would think it’s less than safe for both horse and darter.
Here we have volunteer Nancy Kilian who’s preparing the PZP dose that will be used to vaccinate a mare. The vaccine has to be defrosted, then mixed to activate and then loaded into a dart which will be shot into the mare's rear end. From the photo it’s clear this volunteer isn’t even wearing gloves which would be advisable for anyone handling a drug that should be as sterile as possible. She’s also middle aged and therefore one must assume her vision is compromised by age and if she has arthritis her hand might not be steady enough to be shooting a dart at a wild horse running free.
Credit Kathleen Masterson / KUNR
IUD’s in wild horses ? Why would anyone put an IUD in a wild horse knowing they will not receive any follow up medical care? This device has a long history of scarring women who, unlike wild horses, are not out in the elements 24/7 running at full gallup. According to Jenny Lesieutre the devices are known to fall out pretty soon after the mares leave the corral yet Utah has decided to use them.
Why would any horse advocate group support either option? On a weekly basis non profit groups beg for donations. The wording makes it appear they alone can and will save our wild horses if only you the reader would send them money. They make it sound like their balance sheet is 0 when according to their 990 tax returns 2020 they have millions at their disposal. The takeaway here is that time and again many mares do not return to normal fertility after several doses of PZP. More telling is the experimenting for sterility with Gonacon at TRNP. If this doesn’t give one pause for concern nothing will. The fact that both have been used for years while letting the public think otherwise is proof we are further down the line toward extinction than many had thought.
Return to freedom (RTF), coalition member of the insipid ‘Path forward’ has been pushing the use of PZP. As stated in their report “Myths and Facts: Native Porcine Zona Pellucida (PZP) Immunocontraception in Wild Horse Herds (First Edition, February 28, 2015; updated May 8, 2015). “Over 50 credible organizations, and dozens of reputable scientists and individuals” but there is no list of who these organizations are and how they are deemed credible. Furthermore since HSUS is a main driver of birth control, looking at their decades of lies and lawsuits against them for fraud, they have zero credibility. If this is who RTF holds up as an example to trust sorry not an ounce of ethics there. They go on to state “provides an alternative to the current capture, removal and warehousing of horses and burros in government holding facilities” which we know is a lie since roundups have increased over the years along with horses being shipped overseas for slaughter.
The dispute over PZP being registered as a pesticide is citied in an Memorandum Of Understanding from the (FDA) with EPA to take regulatory jurisdiction.The FDA has zero credibility, for example they refused to pull Oxycontin off the shelves after being given proof of its deadly danger, the drug is still on the market.They also continue to allow the sale of Roundup despite the hundreds of lawsuits and years of studies done on that chemical.In short nothing the FDA says is factual and certainly not in the interest of wild horses and burros. RTF also points to its use in zoos, considering how many have been cited for abuse and neglect of animals in their care again zero credibility. Too much controversy surrounds this group and its founder Neda Demayo it’s hard to know what is fact or fiction.
2020 tax returns show net assets over $1,460,000
American Wild Horse Campaign (AWHC) is a group always threatening to sue but rarely does and constantly begs for donations. Their pride is the Virginia Range herd which is darted with PZP shots by volunteers. This small herd that is used to humans and gets medical care because they live in a closed in area and are constantly observed cannot be compared to true wild horses that have thousands of acres to roam with no medical care or follow up. Their supporters chew out the same tired mantra. As a second example of PZP safety they point to a similar group of horses, truly wild, but landlocked down on Assateague Island National Seashore. Again these horses live in close proximity of humans who observe them on a daily basis. Should a medical situation arise they are able to get medical care.
With assets over two million why no lawsuits? Why no aggressive pr campaign involving billboards and psa’s on television and radio? If your campaign is to save wild horses then why not treat it like a political campaign and spend the money getting the message out. Money in the bank won’t save the horses neither will threats of lawsuits that never materialize. Over the years many have questioned founder Suzanne Roy’s ability to run a non profit and whether she truly has the qualifications to be the lead voice of wild horse and burro advocacy.
2020 tax returns show net assets over $2,279,000 yet they beg for daily donors
Humane Society of United States (HSUS), with a long list of unethical actions send out emails requesting donations. They are the primary financial backer of PZP .This organization comes with a long list of allegations and lawsuits against them from fraud, theft and bribery to sexual harassment. In 2014 they were sued and lost in a RICO lawsuit where they ended up having to pay over $11 million dollars to a circus. In 2002 during Hurricane Katrina they raised over $34 million according to their 2006 tax returns, yet investigations show they paid out somewhere in the neighborhood of $8 million. During the disaster they were all over the media begging for funds to reunite missing dogs and cats. Millions of good hearted people sent in donations to the non profit thinking all the funds would go toward the Katrina project. As it turned out only about 25% of funds did the rest still remains a mystery as to where it actually went. Read more in the Huff Post article updated in 2014 here: https://www.huffpost.com/entry/will-the-hsus-make-a-kill_b_2060516
HSUS continues to hurt horses by killing anti soring bills. The practice of soring the Tennessee Walking Horse has long been one of the sickest practices in the show horse industry. In 2020 according to Wayne Pacelle, past president of HSUS who resigned in disgrace over sex harassment charges formed the Animal Wellness Action, says “With all the reforms built into the PAST Act substitute, it’s a travesty that any animal welfare group that understands anything about the long history of obstructionism in Congress on the Walking Horse issue and the current political alignment on Capitol Hill would try to block its advance. But HSUS and the Humane Society Legislative Fund – the groups I led and built for more than a decade – did exactly that.” Read the full story here https://animalwellnessaction.org/news/626/us-humane-society-scuttles-federal-legislation-to-impose-felony-level-penalties-for-horse-soring#.YbsvQmjMI2w
This same group was instrumental in passing the insidious ‘’Path Forward’ plan sponsored by the beef, oil, gas and mining industries. During secret ‘negotiations’ the group hatched a so called conservation plan to save wild horses. In reality it laid the groundwork for the eventual extermination of our wild horses and burros at taxpayer expense but without their knowledge and consent. Considering that HSUS had already been sued and lost under a RICO lawsuit in 2014 you would think they would have learned their lesson. The current president is Kitty Block who hails from PETA so controversy is common with her work history. She assailed to head of this group after Pacelle and Shapiro resigned in disgrace. No sooner did she take charge when a seat at the table to lobby for wild horses and burros arose. As with all the other players they had a chance to do right but did a major wrong instead.
2020 tax returns net assets show over $284,000,000 which you could do a lot of good. With that much cash you could buy the BLM
The American Society for Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA) is the last of the animal welfare groups involved in getting the Path Forward approved and pushing for use of birth control. Since then they haven’t been as noisy as the other non profits. Perhaps after seeing the backlash from the public they have decided to quietly back away from publicity. All those involved with this plan are to blame as much if not more than the ranching/energy sectors because their agenda was always well known. The black eye is for groups touting their welfare agenda who in reality have done huge irreparable damage to our horses and burros. While they are still very much in the thick of the birth control issue they haven’t been as loud publicly preferring groups like AWHC and HSUS to take the lead. They lobby behind the scenes. The amount of money this group pulls in is over half a billion, I think the money speaks for itself.
As president Matthew Bershadker commands a wall street type salary of $750,000. At the head of the class their 2020 tax return shows outstanding net assets of over $ 407,287,540. No wonder they prefer to play behind the scenes.
Animal abusers in the mix. An interesting note about another PZP pusher is Marty Irby. He claims to be all about helping horses now but for 10 long years he supported the practice of ‘soring.’ As president of the Tennessee Walking Horse Club he vehemently supported keeping the practice and its devices in place in 2012, the same year he claimed to suddenly have a change of heart. Then in 2013 he was showing a walking horse that had been subjected to this torture. He publicly railed against those wanting to ban the practice. His own statements and timeline do not add up. Irby was eventually let go for unethical practices akin to extortion while running the Tennessee Walking Horse club. Click here for the full report on questionable practices by Irby and Pacelle and their new non profit Animal Wellness Action (AWA) https://twhfacts.com/2019/08/03/the-facts-about-marty-irby-executive-director-animal-wellness-action/
Read the story here about Irby’s ‘change of heart about soring’:
For AWHC one their board members, Eleanor Phipps Price, grew up on the headquarters of the Arapaho Fox Hunt club and was/is an active member. Fox hunting is one of the more insidious blood sports involving horses, hounds and fox. I would never have someone with this personal history be a board member of an organization that touts itself as an animal welfare non profit. The black eye this gives AWHC will not be erased.
Wayne Pacelle ex President of HSUS resigned amidst many allegations of sexual harassment. The long list of this group fighting against animal protection laws adds to the suspicion. Few innocent people resign though Pacelle was never convicted. His new group Animal Wellness Action has come under fire for questionable financial reporting. Does a leopard really change their spots?
Animal abusers are commonly found hidden among many animal rights/welfare groups and most county run animal control offices are staffed with them. With no real oversight from government or the public it’s easy to see why they would be drawn to the non profit world. This also explains why so little actual progress has been made in the last 50 years. Ask the National Sheriffs Association or the FBI and they will tell you animal abuse is a serious crime and huge indicator of future crimes against humans. These three being so prominent in the horse advocacy world should make everyone pause and ask questions.
Who can you trust? Between corrupted government employees, an agency rife with fraud, tainted non profits whose mission doesn’t gel with their actions and media too scared to print the truth it’s hard to determine who to believe. One thing is crystal clear, none of the options for birth control are truly safe nor was animal welfare ever a priority. Add all these questionable players and it’s no wonder in 2021 we find ourselves at this hail mary for our wild horses and burros. Bottom line these options are not tools in management but rather a means to the end of wild horses.
Negotiation requires strategy and compromise not selling out. The birth control pushers think their message to the BLM is:
-Birth control ends roundups (it does not)
-Birth control is reversible (not as much as claimed)
-Birth control is cost effective (not according to the FY 22 budget)
-Birth control is safe (too many side effects and questions)
What the BLM REALLY HEARS is that:
-These groups are willing to agree to anything
-Wild horse/burro welfare not a priority
-With no accountability they can follow their own agenda
-Birth control will lead to extinction which they accept or will ignore
Whatever these groups thought they were saying this is what the BLM chose to hear. Once you show willingness to agree to something questionable, unethical or unproven you’ve lost. The tactic to use birth control as a bargaining chip was a massive failure. This leaves little options for the horses now that they have been boxed in. Best bet is to stop supporting incompetent groups with failed policies who have misrepresented the facts. One option is to go back and renegotiate this time showing how wild horses and burros are a natural resource that could prevent wildfires.
Wildfires cost billions so anything we already have that can be utilized simply by existing that could prevent them will get traction. The groups with zero credibility cannot be involved or we will circle back to nowhere fast. This would be a long term plan since we have so few horses left on the range, most of whom have been or are on their way to being sterilized. Trying to sue to enforce a law the BLM has refused to follow for 50 years is a non starter. Tried and failed before. If we continue on this failed policy we won’t have any wild horses left to fight over and whose fault will that be? It will be all of us who failed them.
To learn more about wild horses as a natural prevent for wildfires click here:
Shorter version published on Pagosa Daily Post on December 28, 2021 here https://pagosadailypost.com/2021/12/28/opinion-birth-control-for-wild-horses-a-colossal-mistake/