Writing for ProPublica, Dave Philipps explores The US Bureau of Land Management’s (BLM) clandestine — albeit indirect — role in rounding up thousands of wild horses and sending many to their death by way of Tom Davis, a horse buyer and known advocate of horse slaughter.
The horses find their way to slaughtering houses in Mexico or Canada, and the horse meat ends up in pet food.
Philipps claims Davis has admitted to evading Colorado law to move animals across state lines, and he refuses to disclose where they end up.
He continues to buy wild horses for slaughter from Indian reservations, which are not protected by the same laws. And since 2010, he has been seeking investors for a slaughterhouse of his own.
“Hell, some of the finest meat you will ever eat is a fat yearling colt,” he said. “What is wrong with taking all those BLM horses they got all fat and shiny and setting up a kill plant?”
Philipps explains that at the turn of the 20th Century, horses numbered in the millions, but most were rounded up, slaughtered, and used for pet food or fertilizer, until by 1970, there were only 17,000 left.
Then in 1971, Congress intervened to save the remaining herds, passing a law that declared wild horses “living symbols of the historic and pioneer spirit of the West” and made it a crime for anyone to harass or kill wild horses on most federal land.
The law assigned the departments of Interior and Agriculture with protecting the animals still roaming the range. By 1983 there were an estimated 65,000 wild horses and burros competing for resources with cattle and native wildlife.
The BLM then began removing horses from the wild, and now rounds up about 9,400 horses a year, which has kept the wild population at around 35,000.
The captured horses are put up for adoption, and can be purchased for as little as $125 as long as they sign a contract promising not to sell it to slaughter.
But Philipps points out that only one in three captured horses finds a home. The rest go into a warren of tax payer-funded corrals, feed lots and pastures collectively known as “the holding system.”
The holding population has grown steadily for decades from 1,600 in 1989 to more than 47,000. There are now more wild horses living in captivity than in the wild, and the cost of caring for unwanted wild horses has ballooned from $16 million in 1989 to $76 million.
So BLM is under pressure to thin their horse population but the agency is reluctant to allow them to be slaughtered — at least ostensibly — fearing public outrage
There have been no horse slaughterhouses in the U.S. since 2007, when Congress barred funding for U.S. Department of Agriculture horse meat inspectors.
Since then horse slaughter has been outsourced, with the export of horses for slaughter to Mexico increasing 660 percent after the ban.
Enter Tom Davis
Philipps indicates that if BLM officials made any significant inquires about Davis, they would have found amble reason to question his plans for wild horses. But as Philipps suggests, BLM has deliberately closed their eyes.
Davis supports slaughtering wild horses in the holding system, which he considers a waste of resources. During an interview at his home, he said he would purchase far more horses if the BLM allowed him to resell them to so-called “kill buyers.”
“They are selling me mere hundreds now,” he said. “If they sold me 50,000, I guarantee I could do something with them. I would go to Canada. I would go to Mexico.”
And despite the ban on U.S. horse slaughterhouses, Davis said he has been trying to lure investors to open a slaughter plant in Colorado.
“How can the BLM say with a straight face they are protecting wild horses when they deal with this guy?” said Laura Leigh, founder of the Nevada-based advocacy group Wild Horse Education.
“The BLM says it protects wild horses,” said Leigh, “but when they are selling to a guy like this you have to wonder.”
Animal welfare advocates have raised concerns about Davis’ purchases, but they say federal officials paid little attention.
Warnings from advocates about Davis are ignored by the BLM, who continue to sell horses to him.
“In fact, internal agency email shows that officials actively turned to Davis to absorb freshly rounded-up horses so they wouldn’t end up in the overloaded holding system.”
The BLM has sold Davis at least 1,700 wild horses and burros since 2009, and like all buyers, Davis signed contracts promising that animals bought from the program will not be slaughtered. Davis continues to insist he finds them good homes.