Utility of Low-Stress Livestock Handling Techniques for Management of Feral Horses at Theodore Roosevelt National Park
By Blake McCann, PH.D. Senior Wildlife Biologist
Management of feral horses on federal lands has become a contentious subject due to animal welfare issues associated with helicopter round-ups. At Theodore Roosevelt National Park managers are working to implement alternative horse capture techniques that will minimize stress to animals while meeting resource management objectives, including low-stress livestock han- dling (LSLH) which may be an effective option. However, the feasibility of LSLH in terms of time, effort, and efficacy on park lands is currently unknown. Therefore, the objective of this study is to quantitatively and qualitatively evalu- ate the utility of LSLH techniques for herding of feral horses to specific locations within the park. During August – October 2014 we conducted 31 short-duration (i.e., < 2 hours) LSLH herding attempts in the South Unit of the park—22 on foot and nine on horseback. Where possible, we quantified time invested, pressure zone distances, and straight line and meandering geographic distances traveled during herding attempts. We also recorded qualitative measures
* See last page of article for a biographical sketch.
of animal behavior pertaining to core principles of LSLH. Animals were herded successfully to objective locations on 67.18% of attempts on foot and 44.44% of attempts on horseback, with a success rate of 61.29% overall. Handlers achieved movement toward herding objectives at a rate of 580.61 meters per hour on foot and 907.80 meters per hour on horseback, and meandering courses of travel were more than twice the straight line distance between starting and ending locations in most cases. Herding attempts by a single handler on foot were most successful at keeping animals in a normal state of mind and moving them in the desired direction to a specific location. Overall, results indicate that LSLH is a viable option for horse management in the park. Ongoing evaluation of lasting impacts to animal behavior, the efficacy of long-duration herding attempts (e.g., > 2 hours), and park staff ability to herd animals into corral facilities for capture will be necessary. Notably, an opportunistic herding and capture attempt by a single park staff member during February 2015 was successful.