A research project north of Ely will look at maintaining a stable wild horse population using a contraceptive. The goal is to treat mares with Gonacon, a commercial contraceptive, and then watch them over several years to make sure the project mares do not produce foals.
Jeanne Nations is a volunteer project coordinator who lives in the area, frequently visits the horses and knows most by sight. She will handle the on-site adoptions and help Ben Noyes, in charge of the project, and the Wild Horse Specialist in the BLM Ely District Office. Jeanne said if this research is successful, she hopes it could help other areas provide a more humane way to keep wild horse populations under control.
The Northeastern Nevada Resource Advisory Council recently visited the project site, after submitting a letter to the BLM’s Wild Horse and Burro Program supporting Jeanne’s project.
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The research site is north of Ely, on a narrow strip of public land 12-15 miles long between U.S. Highway 93 and the Schell Creek Range. A fairly isolated group of 66 wild horses currently live in this part of the Antelope Herd Management Area, which has 803 wild horses with an Appropriate Management Level of 324. The nearest other wild horses to this project area are over the mountains to the east.
Trapping has begun and Ben has gathered 35 horses so far. All the rest of the area horses will be trapped this fall. Ben feels he can capture all the area horses using water and bait trapping but will use other techniques if needed.
While the last few members of the Council were visiting the trap site, seven horses came into the trap to eat hay and drink water, showing they are quite comfortable with the trap.
About 30 horses will be part of the project, with the rest removed from the area. It is hoped on-site adoptions will take most of the removed horses but any remaining will be taken to holding areas. People interested in adoption can email Jeanne at email@example.com.
The project horses kept on the site will consist of 15 stallions and 15 mares, having an assortment of ages. After capture, mares will be treated with Gonacon and freeze branded. DNA samples will be collected from all horses. The problem then is the mares must receive a booster 30 days later, so all mares and some of the stallions will be kept in holding pens.
After the 30 days, the horses will be released back into their home range. Ben feels the horses should have no problem re-habituating to their open range after a month of daily hay and abundant water.
Ben and Jeanne will keep an eye on the mares and watch them for pregnancies. The mares will need to be gathered again in two years to receive another booster.
There is a good chance the project mares are now pregnant and will produce foals the first year. However, these treatments should keep the mares from becoming pregnant again during the length of the project. After the project ends, it is hoped the mares will then become pregnant. Other horses may cross the mountains to join this group but they will not throw off the research since only the branded mares will be watched.