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Reno, NV…. The government shutdown may be preventing many operations, including full staffing of federal wild horse and burro holding facilities, but it has not stopped officials at the Sheldon National Wildlife Refuge in northern Nevada from shipping 108 wild horses to a slaughter middleman in Mississippi. The horses are among the 400 captured off refuge lands in a September helicopter roundup. They are being held and processed in corrals at the refuge, which the Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) has declared off-limits to public observation.
At a federal court hearing in Reno yesterday, Sheldon officials acknowledged that, although the government shutdown “forced” them to cancel a public observation of the captured horses, they were able to recall furloughed workers from five different refuges to process horses and send them to Stan Palmer of J &S Associates in Mississippi. Palmer is one of three of Sheldon’s approved “adoption contractors” and the only one with no website, no plan to adopt out the horses and an inability to account for the whereabouts of most of the 262 horses shipped to him from the Sheldon Refuge between 2010 and 2012. At least 82 of those horses were sold at a slaughter auction.
The FWS will pay Palmer over $1000 per horse – or a total of more than $250,000 in taxpayer funds – to take approximately 240 of the 400 captured horses, despite the agency’s own own internal investigation that showed wild horses previously sent to Palmer had ended up in the slaughter pipeline. The plan has sparked public outrage -- to date, over 15,000 citizens have called, emailed and faxed Interior Secretary Sally Jewell urging her to prevent her FWS service from turning horses over to Stan Palmer.
“The government’s use of our tax dollars to launder wild horses captured from federal lands into the slaughter pipeline is outrageous,” said Neda DeMayo, President of Return to Freedom and founder of the American Wild Horse Preservation Campaign (AWHPC). “Equally outrageous is the Fish and Wildlife Service’s use of the government shutdown as an opportunity to dispose of these cherished wild horses out of public view."
Laura Leigh, founder of Wild Horse Education, filed the lawsuit against the Sheldon Refuge over First Amendment and other issues that was the subject of yesterday’s court hearing. She stated: "Under the current plan all the horses from Sheldon will be removed by next fall. It is a real America tragedy that we are throwing away a piece of American history as if it were trash without offering these horses any real protections. As a nation we should be ashamed."
“While the government shutdown has not stopped the Fish and Wildlife Service from shipping horses to a slaughter middleman, it is preventing the protests of over 15,000 citizens from being heard,” said Suzanne Roy, AWHPC director. “It is a travesty that this is being allowed to continue, while the offices of Congress and the Department of Interior are closed and therefore deaf to the public outcry. The Obama Administration is opposed to the cruel practice of horse slaughter and must ensure a safe future for the historic Sheldon mustangs.”
The American Wild Horse Preservation Campaign, founded in 2004 by Return to Freedom, is a coalition of more than 50 horse advocacy, public interest, and conservation organizations dedicated to preserving the American wild horse in viable, free-roaming herds for generations to come.
Wild Horse Education is a non-profit organization dedicated to protecting America’s wild herds from roundup, slaughter and extinction.
Return to Freedom is dedicated to preserving the freedom, diversity and habitat of America’s wild horses through sanctuary, education and conservation, while enriching the human spirit through direct experience with the natural world. Return to Freedom provides a safe haven to 400 wild horses and burros at its sanctuary in Santa Barbara, California.
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