Invasive Species Compendium

Detailed coverage of invasive species threatening livelihoods and the environment worldwide

Abstract

Mortality and operational attributes relative to feral horse and burro capture techniques based on publicly available data from 2010-2019.

Abstract

Management of excessive feral horse (Equus ferus caballus) and burro (Equus asinus) populations in the United States and globally has been a controversial subject for decades. I reviewed all available US federal feral horse and burro daily gather reports from 2010 to 2019 to extract equine species, technique (bait trapping or helicopter gathering), reason (emergency or other), number gathered, number of mortalities, and mortality attributes (acute or chronic/pre-existing condition, specific cause). I found 70 reports (bait trapping burros n=10, bait trapping horses n=24, helicopter gathering horses n=21) from 9 states (AZ, CA, CO, ID, MT, NV, OR, UT, WY) representing 28,821 horses and 2,005 burros. For bait trapping, 100 animals died (4 burros, 96 horses) with 16 acute causes (1 burro, 15 horses) and 84 chronic/pre-existing causes (3 burros, 81 horses). For helicopter gathering, 268 horses died with 62 acute causes and 206 chronic/pre-existing causes. Mortality ratios did not differ by capture technique (P > .05) for broken necks, emaciation, acute causes, or chronic/pre-existing causes. The most common mortality-causing problems were structural deformations, club foot, blindness, and emaciation. The more horses gathered per day resulted in a greater proportion of chronic/pre-existing mortalities for both trapping techniques, but only an increase of acute mortalities for helicopter gathering. The slope suggests 1 acute mortality for every 300 horses gathered. The capture mortality rate across all gathers [1.1% (368 mortalities out of 30,826 horses and burros captured)] is below a general threshold of 2% suggested for wildlife studies.