Treatment of wild horses and burros has improved remarkably over the last fifty years. In the mid-twentieth century, free-ranging horses and burros suffered horribly at the hands of “mustangers” who captured them at will and whim, sometimes using the most brutal of techniques, including aerial pursuit and shooting or crippling key herd members. The horses were packed into livestock trucks hurt, bleeding, and exhausted, and shipped to slaughter without stopping for rest or watering (Ryden 1999). Unprotected by law, only the good will of a few ranchers protected these abused animals. Public awareness of the plight of the wild horses began to grow in the late 1950s, in large part because of the efforts of Velma Johnston, better known as “Wild Horse Annie,” a Nevada- born rancher who witnessed, documented, and publicized the cruelties of the mustangers. First shocked to action after following a blood trail from a truck transporting mustangs to slaughter, Johnston roused the American public, and especially schoolchildren, to demand action from Congress (Ryden 1999). Congress first responded with the “Wild Horse Annie” Act of 1959 (P.L. 86- 234), which banned pursuit of unbranded horses on federal land by aircraft or motor vehicle. Later Congress enacted the Wild Free-Roaming Horse and Burro Act of 1971 (P.L. 92- 195). One of the great success stories of animal protection, the 1971 act declared it to be federal policy that “wild free-roaming horses and burros shall be protected from capture, branding, harassment or death; and to accomplish this they are to be considered in the area where presently found, as an integral part of the natural system of the public lands” (16 U.S.C. §1331). (The “public lands” are defined as federal land managed by the Bureau of Land Management [BLM] and the U.S. Forest Service, which therefore excludes national parks and national wildlife refuges.) The act charged the BLM with locating, inventorying, and managing these animals. Regrettably, the BLM—which truly is a land management agency—was unprepared and ill-equipped to undertake this charge.
Rutberg, A. (2003). Wild horses and burros in the United States. In D.J. Salem & A.N. Rowan (Eds.), The state of the animals II: 2003 (pp. 217-221). Washington, DC: Humane Society Press.
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