Jun 29, 2020

The continuing saga of the Gila Herd

Gilas
Gilas

As we've told you previously, in 2017 RTF rescued 117 members of the historic Gila Herd from a troubled sanctuary to keep them from an imminent auction at which they most likely would have been sold to a killer buyer and sent to a horrific slaughter.

When the horses were rescued from that unfortunate situation, Return to Freedom and The Black Hills Sanctuary stepped up to help Fleet of Angels with this effort and pledged to share the responsibility of providing sanctuary for the Spanish Gila herd, in an effort to maintain their bonded families and unique heritage.

Due to the declining health of the founder of The Black Hills Sanctuary, they were unable to receive the horses in 2017-2019. The entire herd has been protected and managed by RTF over the last few years on 1000 acres of leased pasture, and you have helped to make that happen.

Last summer the herd sorted themselves quite naturally into two large herds and 64 were relocated to a private ranch managed by RTF and the remaining 45 horses remained on the 1000 acres of leased pasture.

After the sad passing of Dayton Hyde, the founder of Black Hills Sanctuary, their director Susan Watt is now able to receive the horses. We are thrilled for the horses that Black Hills Sanctuary is now ready to welcome them to their permanent sanctuary.

On June 13, the RTF team traveled to Alturas, CA and spent the week preparing the 45 Gilas that remained on leased pasture for their final journey to Black Hills.

In Alturas 39 horses were prepared for transport. Forest Service staff came to help on their day off, bringing water and Jute fencing to help funnel the horses. It took 3 three days to catch them and once we were able to create the funnel we were able to get the herd into the corral area. The portable corrals were set up and our new hydraulic squeeze chute was utilized. Dr. Nicole Eller came to draw blood and look over the horses for their Health Certificates. All horses were wormed and then transported to the Dreamcatcher sanctuary nearby, where they are enjoying a 200-acre pasture while awaiting transport to South Dakota.

Six of the horses were brought to RTF’s Lompoc facility. Three are stallions who will be gelded, and one is an older stallion who will remain in Lompoc with a handful of other Gilas that live in our special needs /senior pasture.

After they recover from their gelding, two of the mature stallions, along with a mare and her soon to be 2-month old filly, will travel in separate compartments to The Black Hills Sanctuary and rejoin their herd who will arrive there ahead of them. One of the stallions we brought to Lompoc is a 3-year-old colt who will be gentled and available for adoption with a buddy to a safe, qualified home.

We will miss our Gila friends, who were always destined to leave us, but we are happy that they will never be moved again and will enjoy the protection offered by our colleagues in the Black Hills. Return to Freedom continues to manage a conservation program with the now 66 Gilas still under RTF's care in Northern CA and a dozen of their counterparts who remain with us in our Lompoc and San Luis Obispo sanctuary. 

In addition, we are grateful to Best Friends Animal Sanctuary for taking some of the young Gila colts to be gentled and adopted from their facility in Kanab, Utah.

Thank you for your help caring for the Gilas, and we hope you will continue to follow their lives and be an important part of them.

All of us at RTF 

Gilas
Gilas
Gilas
Gilas
Gila happy to be out of the chute and on her way!
Gila happy to be out of the chute and on her way!
Gelding will stay with mentor(Father?) Thor at RTF
Gelding will stay with mentor(Father?) Thor at RTF
This savvy Gila mare is ready for the Black Hills!
This savvy Gila mare is ready for the Black Hills!
Veterinarian working at the chute
Veterinarian working at the chute
Thor and his friend soon to be reunited
Thor and his friend soon to be reunited
Jun 1, 2020

First part of a challenging year...

Coco and Sophia from Devils Garden
Coco and Sophia from Devils Garden

Quite A Year So Far...

We started this year with no hint of the challenges which would shortly come. But no matter what goes on in the world outside, RTF has over 500 wild horses and burros to feed and care for, and that happens in spite of world events. We’d like to share some of what has happened in our world over the past few months.

Devils Garden Horses

On New Year’s Day, two inseparable mares, Sophia and Coco, were released onto the green hills of Return to Freedom’s 2,000-acre San Luis Obispo, Calif., satellite sanctuary. As they trotted up the hill, they were greeted by loud braying from a group of burros, then first one, then more of the dozens of horses that make their home at the sanctuary.

With the help of a dedicated supporter, RTF was able to provide sanctuary to Sophia, Coco and 10 geldings from Devil’s Garden Wild Horse Territory. They were among the last older wild horses – those most at risk of being sold to slaughter— after their capture during the U.S. Forest Service's 2018 roundup in the Devils Garden Wild Horse Territory in Northern California. In all, 932 wild horses were captured during the roundup.

Happy “Accidents”

Although since 2000 we have helped to pioneer the use of non-hormonal, reversible birth control in the course of keeping our sanctuary population stable, even our 91-98% success rate lets a few foals slip through— and that’s one “failure” that is still a joyous occasion and invigorates the whole herd!. It also demonstrates that this form of birth control provides a future on the range for more generations of America’s wild horses and burros while phasing out the current tragic family-splintering roundups. Here at the sanctuary, it allows stallions and mares to live together naturally while curbing the rate of reproduction.

Now, meet some precious recent arrivals—

Little Cameron was born overnight on March 4 at our Lompoc, CA, headquarters to Willow, from our Sulphur Springs herd. Cameron’s sire is the magnificent Cerbat stallion, Amante.

Apparently, Willow laid down close to a gate that night, and her newborn slid right underneath, because our equine manager found the wobbly newborn ambling down one of the sanctuary's dirt roads! When she brought Cameron back to his band, it quickly became apparent that Willow had not bonded with him, and the foal's young siblings, Fuego and Nora, behaved aggressively toward the newcomer. 

Our ranch team relocated Willow and Cameron to give them time to connect. Fortunately, they have! 

Young Neptune was born on Friday, Feb. 21, also at our Lompoc headquarters, to Juno, a member of our Hart Mountain herd. Neptune’s sire is Freedom.

Neptune was named by one of our Instagram followers after the Roman god of horses as well as the sea. This little guy’s roots go back to Hart Mountain in Oregon. The U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service conducted a complete removal of 279 wild horses from the Hart Mountain National Antelope Refuge, Oregon, due to pressure from hunters to manage the area for pronghorn antelope and bighorn sheep. Of those, four stallions and nine mares arrived at RTF’s sanctuary in 1999.

Then there’s Ruby Tuesday

This pretty filly was born to 15-year-old mare Diamond overnight on Tuesday, Jan. 21, in Lompoc. Her sire is 19-year-old stallion Samir, who, like Diamond, is a descendent of our foundation herd from Hart Mountain in Oregon who arrived in 1998 and 1999.

The Hart Mountain Fish and Wildlife Refuge removed all cattle and in 1998 they removed all the wld horses there. Veteran wild horse advocate Jim Clapp (founder of the first Wild Horse Sanctuary in the 1970's) was hired to remove the horses on horseback and with bait trapping, so that the herd that came to RTF's American Wild Horse Sanctuary arrived in their family bands.

Meet Shiva Rose

In March, a beautiful dorsal striped dun filly was born into the Gila herd in one of our satellite ranches in Northern California. Little Shiva Rose is strong and sassy! Of the 63 Gila herd mares that were treated with fertility control, this filly’s mama Robin was not receptive to the vaccine – at least not this year! 

All of these youngsters have deep roots in the history of America's wild horses. Although they never had a chance to roam that vast range, with your help they will live wonderful lives, safe from the perils of human politics and power, right here at Return to Freedom's American Wild Horse Sanctuary.

Spirit

You may recall that Return to Freedom’s Lompoc, CA sanctuary is home to Spirit, the mustang who served as muse and model for animators of DreamWorks 2002 Oscar-nominated film “Spirit: Stallion of the Cimarron” Youth and adults all over the world fell in love with America’s wild horses as this beautiful dorsal-striped stallion carried their dreams about freedom and horses in the DreamWorks film.

Since Spirit’s arrival at Return to Freedom’s Lompoc, CA headquarters sanctuary in 2003, the handsome, mischievous Kiger mustang has remained a favorite of visitors of all ages, including young viewers of DreamWorks Animation’s Netflix’s spin-off series, “Spirit: Riding Free.” 

This year is Spirit’s 25thbirthday, and since the start of 2020 we had been planning a live birthday party event here at RTF’s American Wild Horse Sanctuary. But the shutdown and restrictions cause by the pandemic derailed the live event, and much of the next few months were spent retooling the party into a virtual event, which did take place in May and will continue for the rest of 2020 to celebrate the spirit of the horse!. Our next update will describe the virtual Birthday for our friend and resident, Spirit. 

Advocacy

If you have been following our reports, you know that as well as caring for the residents at RTF’s sanctuary locations, our organization works to protect all wild horses and burros still living on public lands. They have faced serious threats to their very existence for many years, and we have always worked on the national stage to ensure wild herds a future on the Western landscape.

We’re pleased to report that February marked the continuation in a significant, positive shift in tone around the wild horse issue. For the first time, President Trump submitted a budget proposal that did not include a call for the use of either unrestricted sale (to slaughter) or “euthanizing” healthy wild horses and burros. 

For some background, as recently as 2017, the outlook for tens of thousands of wild horses and burros on and off the range looked very bleak. House Appropriators passed an amendment to the Interior appropriations bill that would have allowed the Bureau of Land Management to euthanize healthy wild horses and burros. Under the law and with congressional support, BLM signaled more and larger roundups with no plan to implement fertility control that would allow roundups to be phased out. 

In 2018, the push in Washington, D.C., shifted to mass sterilization, and BLM changed its sale policy changed to allow single buyer to purchase up to 24 horses per day with no waiting period, greatly increasing the risk that more wild horses would fall into the slaughter pipeline.

In response to these looming threats to the lives of tens of thousands of wild horses, RTF worked with the nation’s two largest humane groups and sat down at the table with other rangeland stakeholders to try to find common ground. 

As a result, we were able to present Congress with a non-lethal alterative to a status quo that was fast driving wild horses toward a cliff’s edge. Over the past dozen years or so, we have created a model, right here at our sanctuary, for the implementation of safe, proven and humane fertility control so that on public lands, herd growth could be stabilized, roundups phased out and the cost to taxpayers brought under control. 

Not only did Congress embrace the idea on a bipartisan basis, investing $21 million for Fiscal Year 2020, but other positive signs began to appear. In 2019, for the first time in three years, the National Wild Horse and Burro Advisory Board did not recommend unrestricted sale or euthanasia. BLM revoked its sale policy change, returning to a limit of four horses per buyer every six months. And it announced it would not seek authority to euthanize healthy horses, for now.

The President’s budget proposal continues this positive shift. There’s still cause for concern, however. BLM continues to use its base budget to pursue the study of surgical sterilization of wild mares, which RTF strongly opposes, and the president’s budget proposal calls for that to continue. 

At the end of the first quarter, we were also still awaiting a long-overdue report laying out a long-term management plan for wild horses and burros. Until Congress has the report in hand, the $21 million in additional funds approved by lawmakers will not be released to the agency. 

It’s critically important that we continue to work with lawmakers to ensure that BLM immediately begins implement a real fertility program with proven safe and humane tools that are available, and that the move toward humane management of wild horses and burros and a sustainable future for the rangelands on which they depend continues. 

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It’s the support of so many caring people over our 22-year history that has made possible not only the happy lives of the over 500 wild horses and burros who reside with us, but our work to protect and conserve their counterparts still roaming the range. No matter what the world throws our way, we will always be here for the wild ones.

Thanks to everyone who has helped and continues to help make this possible. There is no RTF without you.

All of us at RTF.

Cameron and Willow-photo Irene Vejar
Cameron and Willow-photo Irene Vejar
Neptune
Neptune
Ruby Tuesday
Ruby Tuesday
Shiva Rose, just a few weeks old
Shiva Rose, just a few weeks old
Spirit's Birthday goes virtual
Spirit's Birthday goes virtual
Feb 27, 2020

Home is where the herd is...

Yes, it is!!
Yes, it is!!

If you have been seeing our quarterly reports, you know that since the Gila Herd was rescued by RTF in 2017 they have been on the move until settling into their current 2 locations. The horses were originally captured from the Painted Rock Herd Management area in Arizona in 2003. When the South Dakota sanctuary which had taken them in foundered, RTF spearheaded a campaign, working with other rescues and individuals, to get all the nearly 900 endangered horses into secure situations. RTF spoke up for the 120+ Gilas.

The herd traveled from South Dakota to Nevada to Northern CA , and moved from one location to another there when the first boarding location was sold.  Then, when a private ranch owner in Shasta County, CA, generously opened his gates to 64 herd members, part of the herd has settled in there over the past few months. Weather there has been above normal temperatures, with below normal precipitation. Many of the major projects and work there to prepare it for the herd has been completed, although there is always routine maintenance, such as fence repair. RTF’s biologist, Celeste, will begin administering birth control at both Gila locations on first of March. This is the same non-hormonal and reversible fertility control we have been using with success at RTF headquarters for over a dozen years. 

Because the Gila horses are situated firmly for now, you may notice that we have changed the name of this project to “Care for the Rescued Gila Herd”, from “Transport the Gila Herd to CA”. These are the same horses, and they are thriving in their current homes. Great care was taken to identify the herd members who needed to stay together, so there are no issues with the herd’s current division. All are happy in their respective locations.

When RTF first took in the Gila’s, we went to great lengths to determine their lineage and genetic significance through DNA testing and phenotyping, in the hope that the herd would be a good candidate for a dedicated conservation organization to take them over.  That did not turn out to be the case. 

Because of our hope that they would be candidates for a conservation program, we originally planned to be responsible for their care for a maximum of 2 years, until a program could be established. Now that is not an option.  Removing them from the danger of auction and probable slaughter into our care significantly increased our expenses by over a third, and it has been a challenge to shoulder the additional financial needs. But many supporters, caring people like you who read these reports, are the reason that the Gilas have not only survived the danger, but have found a happy, peaceful and safe home. As long as people care, the Gilas will survive and thrive. We hope that you will continue to keep them in your thoughts when you consider a project to support. They have lost a lot in their lives, and they deserve the stability that together, we can give them.

We hope you enjoy the video showing the Gilas eating their hay in the snow in Shasta.  It’s because of our supporters that they can count on their meals. We are grateful for you every day.

Thank you for standing with the Gila Herd!

All of us at Return to Freedom

New Gila Filly!
New Gila Filly!
Gilas in Alturas
Gilas in Alturas
Alturas living
Alturas living
New fence repair in Shasta County, CA Gila home
New fence repair in Shasta County, CA Gila home
Living the good life...
Living the good life...

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