Groups want answers after 16 wild horses were found shot to death in southeastern Utah

Wild horses graze in the Sand Wash Basin in Moffat County on Sept. 2. According to multiple animal rights groups, at least 16 wild horses have been found shot to death in San Juan County in southeastern, Utah, next to the Utah-Colorado border.
John F. Russell/Steamboat Pilot & Today

At least 16 horses were recently found shot dead in southeastern Utah, sparking multiple animal rights groups to condemn the killings and call for justice.

According to Animal Wellness Action, the Animal Wellness Foundation and the Center for a Humane Economy, mares and foals were among the wild horses killed on federal lands in San Juan County, Utah. San Juan County butts up against the Utah-Colorado border, extending from just south of Moab to the Utah-Arizona border.

As a result of the shootings, the animal rights groups are asking authorities to take swift action to find the person or people responsible. The groups say the horses’ bodies were discovered in varying stages of decomposition, indicating they were not all shot at the same time.

Additionally, the slain horses were found on land managed by the Bureau of Land Management, but because the area is not designated as a wild horse herd management area, the animals are not protected under the Wild Free-Roaming Horses and Burros Act of 1971, which protects wild mustangs and burros from deliberate, unauthorized killings by private citizens or entities.

“The discovery of at least 16 dead horses in southern Utah is the latest in a pattern across the Western United States of mass killings of wild horses by unknown assailants, who appear to be acting with a brazen disregard for the law, and who could pose a serious threat to people and animals,” said Scott Beckstead of the Center for a Humane Economy in a statement. “The link between animal abuse and interpersonal violence is real, and any person capable of such depraved acts of cruelty should be considered a threat to the community at large.”

Others are blaming government officials for the killings, referencing federal efforts to remove wild horses from the landscape as a likely contributing factor.

“Our federal government characterizes our iconic wild equines as unwanted trespassers in their campaign to eradicate these animals from our public lands to make way for more commercial livestock,” said Marty Irby, executive director at Animal Wellness Action, in another statement. “That characterization is perceived by horse killers that wild equines are fair game for mass extermination. We hope law enforcement will move swiftly to find these sadistic killers and send a strong message that unprovoked killing of animals is a serious crime with serious consequences.”

According to the animal rights groups, the killings in Utah come on the heels of another mass slaughter of unprotected wild horses in Arizona, where at least 25 wild horses were killed and another 25 are missing in the Apache-Sitgreaves National Forest.

Additionally, a herd of federally protected wild horses in the nearby Heber Herd Management Area have seen at least 40 horses shot and killed since 2018. Horses have also been found fatally shot in other locations, including near Ely, Nevada, in a November 2021 shooting that prompted the BLM to issue a reward offer to help find those responsible.

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