Staffing shortages that have impacted vaccination programs are believed to have contributed to the spread of two diseases that have killed 145 feral horses at a Cañon City facility since April 23, according to a report released last week.
“Employees and staff who work at this facility are well trained and competent in working and caring for wild horses; however, this facility is understaffed in several ways,” according to the report.
“Staff shortages are affecting facility maintenance as well as the preparation, vaccination and hoof care of animals at the facility,” the report from the Federal Bureau of Land Management said. The facility is operated by the Bureau of Land Management and the Correctional Industries Program of the Colorado Department of Corrections, where inmates learn to care for and train horses and burros.
“It is apparent that more personnel are needed on site for timely animal handling and work. Additional BLM wrestler positions and possibly DOC wrestler positions should be considered,” according to the report.
“If the availability of detained workers continues to be unpredictable and limited, it may be beneficial to consider contracting out tasks such as hoof trimming, feeding or facility maintenance,” the report said.
Learn more about horse deaths:106 wild horses died at BLM Cañon City facilities in nine days
The Report of the Comprehensive Animal Welfare Program Teamwhich was compiled after a team of experts visited and assessed the facility where the horses are penned, detailed where improvements can be made to prevent and mitigate future outbreaks, the BLM said in a press release .
“This review will allow us to better understand the management factors that may have contributed to this outbreak so that we can better understand how to prevent another outbreak,” said Stephanie Connolly, acting state director for BLM Colorado.
State and federal officials confirmed on Tuesday that a bronchopneumonic influenza virus and zooepidemic streptococcal bacterial infection caused the deaths of dozens of horses after they arrived at the corrals at the East Cañon prison complex.
The deaths were primarily among the 435 horses that were rounded up last fall in the rugged West Douglas area, located west of the town of Meeker in northwest Colorado. The roundup was carried out after a forest fire destroyed the horses’ fodder, officials said.
About 2,550 horses are housed in the corrals and slight signs of illness have been seen among those who are not part of the West Douglas population.
U.S. Department of Agriculture veterinary epidemiologist Dr. Albert Kane, who was part of a team of five animal welfare specialists assessing the facility, said tests carried out on samples from autopsied horses over the past first days of deaths confirmed equine influenza virus. and bacterial infections were responsible.
“Virus isolation, DNA sequencing and further laboratory investigations are underway to better understand the host, agent and environmental factors that contributed to the unusually high mortality seen in West Douglas horses. . It is anticipated that it could take several weeks or months to complete this second phase of the outbreak investigation,” Kane said.
Overall, the report indicates that the site is 83% up to standard.
While there are benefits for the BLM and corrections industries to work together to house and care for feral horses and burros, the report states that “there are also increased challenges associated with these contractual arrangements.” A review of the roles and responsibilities of the two agencies would benefit the facility’s operations, the experts concluded.
A status report released on Friday said 22 foals have died since the spate of deaths began at the facility. There have been only four horse deaths since May 12.
A quarantine will remain in place at the facility until at least July 1, and enhanced surveillance by veterinarians will continue.
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