A businesswoman who spent $25 million building a sanctuary for wild horses in northern Nevada is calling for an investigation into the shooting deaths of several mustangs killed on her ranch.
Madeleine Pickens, the founder of the Mustang Monument eco-sanctuary, says there is no mystery about who pulled the trigger. The shooters were working for the federal Bureau of Land Management.
Pickens and other horse advocates worry that this latest incident sets a new and dangerous precedent.
“It was the saddest sickest thing I’d ever seen. That broke me. It broke me in two,” said Madeleine Pickens, founder of Mustang Monument.
PHOTOS: Dead horses found on Pickens’ property (WARNING: The photos are graphic.)
Pickens wasn’t prepared for the horrific images that awaited her on her Elko County ranch. The carcasses of several wild mustangs had been dragged into a heap and left to rot. The horses had been shot multiple times in their stomachs, legs, torsos and heads.
“She said the BLM has euthanized some horses. Euthanized, is that what you call it? It’s supposed to be kind and humane treatment. The stomach, the hips, the belly. You don’t shoot a female in the belly. You just don’t do it,” Pickens said.
But the BLM did. It told Pickens it had no choice but to put eight or nine horses down due to their poor condition from lack of food and water.
The I-Team already had the photos and details but wrote to BLM in late August to ask whether a group of horses had been found shot to death in Elko County. Nothing came to mind. BLM asked for more details. In multiple messages over several days, the bureau still didn’t fess up, not until the I-Team mentioned Boone Spring on the Pickens property. The BLM then admitted it “humanely euthanized” eight horses that were in distress.
In subsequent emails, the BLM explained that its policy allows for humane euthanization thru injection or a shot to the head but when necessary they use methods employed against big game animals..”ethical and responsible” means.
Horse owner and advocate Jerry Reynoldson has worked with mustangs for 25 years. He’s seen multiple incidents of entire herds of horses gunned down, crimes that are rarely solved, and of horses killed or terrified during the BLM’s frequent helicopter roundups, such as a mare chased in September right after giving birth, according to witness. But he’s never seen the BLM take target practice at horses that were supposedly too ill to be captured or treated or saved.
“We’ve known cowboys go out and fun shoot horses in the desert. This is different. This is a government agency supposed to protect these horses. This is probably as inhumane as anything I can imagine,” said Jerry Reynoldson, wild horse advocate.
The I-Team asked the BLM for all internal records about the incident, including emails. The few documents we obtained pointedly interject the word “humane” every time euthanization is mentioned.
Omitted from the records were the names of those involved. Or how it was determined the horses were too ill to save, or whether anyone tried to trap the horses instead of shooting them on the run.
There were internal discussions about how to respond to our inquiries. One plan was to refer to the shootings as “an act of mercy”. Reynoldson says shooting a horse in the gut is a far cry from merciful. He predicts that since the BLM got away with it, it won’t be the last time.
“It says this is the new normal and it’s going to get worse,” Reynoldson said.
The BLM’s public information staff was prompt in responding to the I-Team’s records request. However, they redacted the names of the personnel involved with the shootings, and the records released to us did not mention any internal review of the decision to kill the mustangs. The I-Team also did not see any internal review once it was carried out.
Mrs. Pickens has called for an investigation into the matter, but it is unclear whether any such inquiry will be launched and who might conduct it.