LAS VEGAS (KLAS) — They’re beloved, a symbol of the West and part of the American landscape. The I-Team has covered wild horses and the issues surrounding them for years.

Now, an investigation has revealed some of them are being sold for slaughter.

There are a few issues:

  • How the government captures wild horses and burros
  • What the government does with these animals after
  • Whether they are being sold and killed for meat

“You have these iconic American symbols of freedom that are being brutally butchered and shipped off for foreign horse meat markets overseas,” lamented Suzanne Roy, executive director of the American Wild Horse Campaign.

She says her organization has teamed up with The New York Times for an in-depth investigation, which revealed wild horses are being sold for slaughter.

“We’re calling it ‘slaughtergate.’ it happens about every decade,” Roy shared. “The BLM gets exposed to sending wild horses, federally protected wild horses and burrows to slaughter. And the reason this keeps happening is because the BLM keeps rounding up wild horses.”

By law, the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) is authorized to capture wild horses and burros for the health and productivity of public lands.

Wild horse advocates point to cattle ranchers and their interest in the land for their livestock.

There has been a record-breaking number of roundups in recent years. In some instances, they cause injuries and deaths to the animals. The ones that survive are kept in federal holding pens.

Through a federal program, an individual is offered $1,000 to adopt one horse. But Roy says some people were taking the money, selling the animals, and through the investigation and tracking, it was discovered some of them were headed to be killed for human consumption.

“Well, it was just horrific, and it just breaks your heart when you see people under false pretenses say, ‘we’re gonna adopt a pony,'” Democratic Congresswoman Dina Titus told the I-Team.

She is a longtime advocate for wild horses.

According to the BLM, as of March 2020, there were nearly 47,000 wild horses and more than 4,500 burros in the state. That is more than half of all the wild horses in country.

Titus and Roy say they support a method of birth control, administered via darts, for the animals. Advocates say it’s more cost-effective and more humane than roundups, but so far, the BLM has shown resistance.

“…We’ve never come up with somebody in the BLM who really cares about this, and I think now, Secretary Haaland will be the person who can be a good partner for us,” Titus said.

The I-Team’s request for an interview with the new Secretary of Interior, who oversees the BLM, was declined.

The American Wild Horse Campaign is now calling for an investigation into the adoption program. It wants employees held accountable, criminal prosecution for those who sold the animals for slaughter and for lawmakers to step in.

Titus says gradually, there is more interest in legislation, but there is also a challenge:

“Sometimes, it’s hard to get through the agriculture committee, though, because it’s so dominated by ranching interests.”

The congresswoman says she receives the most amount of letters about this issue, people from all over the country, showing support for wild horses, even if they’ve never personally seen one.