Utah cowboys work to stop the spread of deadly disease

SALT LAKE CITY (AP) — In response to a serious outbreak of a highly contagious and deadly horse disease, hundreds of wild horses will be rounded up this week in a campaign to prevent it from spreading.
Under the “joint rescue mission” announced Tuesday by the federal Bureau of Land Management and the Utah Department of Agriculture and Food, up to 500 horses in three separate herds will be gathered by cowboys and helicopters.
After blood samples are drawn and tested for equine infectious anemia, healthy horses will be immediately released, said Dave Howell of the bureau.
Animals testing positive will be destroyed under the supervision of the state veterinary staff. The disease, unique to horses, is incurable.
“(Euthanasia) is the only option with a disease of this nature, in a situation as serious as we have in the Uintah Basin,” Howell said.
Animal rights advocates reacted with angry surprise, saying they had been assured by bureau officials last month that the roundups would be much smaller in scale and later in the year due to concerns that they would unduly stress the herds’ young, typically born between now and mid-July.
“We are outraged and shocked,” said Holly Hazard of the Washington-based Doris Day Animal League. “This is not what we were led to believe they would do. They made promises to us that they would not do this during foaling season.”
Hazard said the league is considering legal options but needs more details of the plan.
Also known as swamp fever, EIA is a viral infection spread by bloodsucking insects. About 30 percent of the animals contracting the disease die; the rest become permanent carriers of the virus.
Equine infectious anemia is less common in the arid West than in the East, where higher humidity means more mosquitoes.
The roundups, expected to last for more than a week, were ordered in response to a major EIA outbreak on the Ute Indian Reservation. There, 29 of 200 wild horses gathered during a roundup tested positive for EIA last month.
State veterinarian Michael Marshall said that the level of infection — 14 percent — is unprecedented for this part of the country.
Of 7,000 domestic horses tested in Utah for the disease annually, usually only one or two are found to have EIA.
Howell said the roundup will occur on lands adjacent to the Ute reservation, about 120 miles east of Salt Lake City.