May 23, 2019
The opinion column below was written by Greg Hendricks, director of field operations for the American Wild Horse Campaign.
A month ago, seven volunteers stepped out of their trucks onto the Virginia Range and began administering fertility control to wild mares. In an unprecedented bipartisan effort through the leadership of Gov. Steve Sisolak, the support of Assembly Minority Leader Jim Wheeler and the corporate sponsorship of Blockchains LLC, the crucial program has been reinstated. After just 30 days, early analysis indicates success for all parties involved.
The Virginia Range wild horse issue is, at its heart, about keeping horses and humans safe, an increasing challenge given the rapid development in the greater Reno area, increasing encroachment on the mustangs’ habitat, and human-horse conflicts that arise as a result.
That’s what makes this partnership a win-win. By reintroducing the fertility control program, we can protect public safety, accommodate economic growth, and ensure that the Virginia Range horses do not outgrow their habitat as they continue to live wild and free on their native land.
The program aims to reduce population growth rate in the historic herd, which lives on a 300,000-acre range that spans from Carson City to Reno to Fernley and Silver Springs. The chosen method of fertility control — the PZP immunocontraceptive vaccine — creates an immune response that prevents fertilization without impacting the natural behaviors that make wild horses wild and ensure their survival and well-being on the range. It’s been implemented for more than 30 years as safe and effective control in multiple wildlife species — from elephants and elk to wild horses.
In just the first month of the program, 100 mares were darted by volunteers, preventing as many as 80 pregnancies (80 fewer foals next spring), based on the predicted efficacy of the primer shot of the vaccine.