Yuma, Arizona — May 31, 2012 – As the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) prepares to launch a massive burro roundup next week in the lower Sonora Desert, where temperatures are expected to exceed 100 degrees, the American Wild Horse Preservation Campaign (AWHPC), a coalition of more than 50 organizations, is calling on the BLM to postpone the helicopter stampede and capture operation until Fall, when temperatures will be lower. In a letter to the BLM, the AWHPC cited the opinions of leading scientists and humane experts, who stated definitively that wild burros and wild horses should not be rounded up by helicopters in temperatures above 90 degrees.
The BLM plans to use helicopters to round up hundreds of burros in Arizona’s Cibola Trigo Herd Management Area (HMA) and California’s Chocolate Mule Mountain Herd Area (HA) — both located in the Sonora desert near the Mexican border — beginning Monday, June 4, 2012. The roundups are expected to last over two weeks.
AWHPC’s letter, sent to outgoing BLM Director Bob Abbey and his replacement Mike Poole, also cited a report commissioned by Cattoor Livestock Round Up, Inc. the contractor hired by the BLM for the Cibola-Trigo and Chocolate-Mule roundups. The report was prepared by Mark J. Deesing, Animal Behavior & Facilities Design consultant for Grandin Livestock Handling System. Deesing, an assistant to the highly-regarded livestock industry consultant Dr. Temple Grandin, wrote, “It is the opinion of Dr. Temple Grandin and myself that gathers in temperatures at or above 90F should always be avoided…”
Dr. Michael Hutchison, a practicing equine veterinarian in Tucson, Arizona, and Board member of the Arizona Coalition of Equines, agreed with the Grandin report. In a letter to BLM leadership, Dr. Hutchison noted, “As an Arizona Equine Veterinarian whose professional career involves equines, including burros, I strongly advise the BLM to postpone the round up until the weather conditions meet the temperature guidelines described by the humane organization and livestock animal behaviorist specialists.”
This maximum temperature advisory supports recommendations provided to the BLM by the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) on July 13, 2011 which stated, “…we [the HSUS] strongly suggest that, at the very least, the BLM refrain from conducting helicopter drive trapping gathers in temperatures above 90F …”
AWHPC’s letter also included a statement from Jennifer Garretson, DVM, a Waco, Texas veterinarian who has both professional and personal experience caring for burros and donkeys, which stated: “Temperatures above 90 degrees Fahrenheit are considered excessive for unconditioned burros to be run for long distances during a gathering process. Burros are roughly one-half the size of wild mustangs. As a result, wild burros have shorter legs and thus shorter strides than the wild mustangs. This forces burros to expend twice the effort than that of mustangs to cover the same distance, given that they are covering roughly, ½ the distance with each stride as the wild mustang. This stride length is further reduced for burro foals. Burros also have thicker, heavier fur coats than their counterpart mustangs. This reduces the speed at which heat dissipation can occur during exertion. This can heighten their risk of experiencing heat stress, heat exhaustion and/or heat stroke, which causes dehydration, lactic acid build up, exhaustion of glycogen reserves in the liver, colic, rhabdomyelitis, collapse and even death. . . The life stages that are at the highest risk of succumbing to the deleterious effects of a gathering in high heat are late-term, pregnant Jennets, foals under 1 year of age and geriatric burros (defined as 15 years and older).”
“The BLM must prioritize the best interests of the burros and the experts agree – roundup activities should not continue in temperatures 90 degrees or higher,” said Deniz Bolbol, communications director for AWHPC. “The BLM currently allows helicopters to chase small burros, who live in harsh desert environment with limited water reserves, for seven miles at speeds as fast as 10 miles per hour in temperatures reaching 105 degrees. This policy is clearly not in the burros’ best interests. It’s time for the BLM to work with all interested parties to establish humane standards that prioritize animal welfare over BLM or roundup contractor convenience.”
In addition to the temperature concerns, AWHPC’s letter urged the BLM to implement a policy prohibiting helicopters from pursuing a single animal and repeatedly (more than three times) chasing or stampeding the same group of animals into the trap pens. These are the same policies that were outlined late last year by Nevada BLM State Director Amy Lueders.
The million-acre Cibola-Trigo HMA extends from the Imperial Dam, west of the Colorado River, to Walters Camp in California’s lower Sonora Desert. After the BLM rounds up and removes 350 burros from Cibola Trigo, it will move across the Colorado River into California’s Chocolate-Mule HA. There the agency will target so called “nuisance burros” who reside on private land that was once a part of the HA, for removal. The BLM website acknowledges that “summers can be dangerous” due to the extremely high desert summer temperatures. The BLM Environmental Assessment (EA) for the Cibola-Trigo roundup states that, “All herding activities will cease once the temperature reaches 105 degrees Fahrenheit,” which is 15 degrees hotter than the experts recommend.