We keep saying that a lot is happening behind the scenes. Sometimes information is shared with us and we have to wait until the people or organization that shared the info with us is ready to make it public. The biggest reason for that is usually legal in nature.
Recently, one organization received over 400 pages of information through FOIA (Freedom of Information Act). That information has also been shared with us.
Since we arrived in Southwestern North Dakota in 2016, we have heard repeatedly about the Colorado State University “Study” that was being done on the wild horses in Theodore Roosevelt National Park. The “study” started in 2009 and was supposed to last 4 years. It lasted for 11 years, if it has truly ended at all. Theodore Roosevelt National Park is currently administering GonaCon to every female horse aged 8 months old and up. So, has the study ended? You will see in the coming days why it is so hard to simply believe information we are given from park management and why we have serious concerns now about a truly objective Environmental Assessment being done by this same management.
For starters, we need to clearly define what Colorado State University and Theodore Roosevelt National Park did to our horses.
“Study” by definition, means “a detailed investigation and analysis of a subject or situation.”
On the other hand, “experiment” by definition, means “a scientific procedure undertaken to make a discovery, test a hypothesis, or demonstrate a known fact.”
A quote from Dan Baker in an article printed in the Bismarck Tribune (https://bismarcktribune.com/news/state-and-regional/parks-wild-horses-an-experiment-in-birth-control/article_a13a157e-816a-11e4-a261-ffd6de663204.html#tncms-source=login) might help us determine if the wild horses in Theodore Roosevelt National Park were part of a “study” or if they were “experimented” on for 11 years:
“It’s such a great natural lab out there. The area the horses are confined in is large, but not too large. It’s great landscape, and we can find them most of the time,” he said.
If we are talking about a lab, seems like we are talking about an experiment, right?
There is A LOT that will be unpacked from these FOIA documents in the coming days. We thought we would share smaller pieces that can easily get lost in the bigger stories coming out about these documents. We think that the first word in the piece we are sharing today answers the question about if this was a “study” or an “experiment”. It was clearly an experiment.
Experimental animals and treatment application: During a scheduled NPS gather and removal in September 2013, horses were herded by helicopter into permanent corrals and handling facilities. Fifty, adult mares (5-19 years of age) (25 GonaCon -treated: 25 saline-control) that had been previously vaccinated with a single inoculation of GonCon- or saline solution in October 2009 were identified and retained within the park for this experiment. Band stallions were also retained. All mares were identified individually using a photographic data base of pelage color and band association, as well as, previously implanted passive integrated transponder (PIT) tags. General health, pregnancy status, and body condition of each animal was assessed while horses were restrained in a hydraulic squeeze chute. Pregnancy status and approximate stage of gestation were determined using rectal palpation of the reproductive tract and transrectal ultrasound imaging (Bucca et al. 2005). Up to 50 mls of blood was collected and serum removed, frozen, and archived for future anti-GnRH antibody analyses (Powers et al. 2011). We collected hair samples from all horses to assess the genetic status of the population and fecal samples for pregnancy determination and prevalence of endoparasites. Body condition of mares was assessed and scored visually according to methods described by Henneke et al. (1983). Mares in the treatment group received an intramuscular booster inoculation, by hand-syringe, containing 2000µg (2 ml) of GonaCon (synthetic GnRH conjugate Blue Carrier protein and emulsified in AdjuVacTM adjuvant (Miller et al. 2008) in the middle gluteus muscle on the opposite side from the primary vaccination. Mares in the control group were injected in the same way with an equal volume of saline solution. These treatments and procedures were identical to the ones used in 2009 except that injections were given on the right side of the body in 2013 rather than the left to allow differentiation from the previous injection site.
I would imagine the transponders they implanted in our mares helped them, and “local residents who volunteer” (this was noted repeatedly throughout the documents) find the horses quite easily. They had to find the horses to collect fecal samples to be able to determine who was pregnant and when the foals were due. As the documents show, and you will see in the coming days, some mares became even more important than others.
We will continue to share more this week as well as links to articles that are being written about the contents of documents received from this FOIA request. Other organizations have also reached out to us letting us know that they also have some new information they will be releasing as well.
We think that when all of the information is shared, it will be very clear to everyone that the only thing being “studied” on the wild horses in Southwestern North Dakota were the results of years of experimentation and ways to perfect what they were finding.
Chasing Horses Wild Horse Advocates is committed to advocating for a wild horse management plan and protection for these unique wild horses that call Theodore Roosevelt National Park home! We are fighting for a management plan that is guided by science especially when it comes to decisions regarding the removal of horses and the administration of birth control. Many other wild horse management plans have proven to be successful with their science-based plans. We are asking for the same for this amazing group of wild horses that call Theodore Roosevelt National Park home.