Killing Wolves Backfires On Ranchers

Pack Disruption Detrimental To Livestock

The best way to control wolf populations and minimize livestock predation may be to stop shooting, trapping and poisoning them, Washington State University researchers say.

A review of 25 years of data from lethal control programs from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Services found that shooting and trapping the carnivores leads to more dead sheep and cattle in subsequent years, rather than less.

wolf conservation

Writing in the journal PLOS ONE, WSU wildlife biologist Rob Wielgus and data analyst Kaylie Peebles say that, for each wolf killed, the odds of more livestock depredations increase significantly.

Predator control and sport hunting are often used to reduce predator populations and livestock depredations, – but the efficacy of lethal control has rarely been tested. We assessed the effects of wolf mortality on reducing livestock depredations in Idaho, Montana and Wyoming from 1987–2012 using a 25 year time series. The number of livestock depredated, livestock populations, wolf population estimates, number of breeding pairs, and wolves killed were calculated for the wolf-occupied area of each state for each year.

wolf consevation


The trend continues until 25 percent of the wolves in an area are killed, a rate of removal that is unsustainable for maintaining the species. Researchers found that killing one wolf increases the odds of depredations four percent for sheep and five to six per cent for cattle the following year. If 20 wolves are killed, livestock deaths double.

Work reported in PLOS ONE last year by Peebles, Wielgus and other WSU colleagues found that lethal controls of cougars also backfire, disrupting their populations so much that younger, less disciplined cougars attack more livestock.

Wielgus did not expect to see the same result with wolves.

“I had no idea what the results were going to be, positive or negative,” he said. “I said, ‘Let’s take a look at it and see what happened.’ I was surprised that there was a big effect.”

Wielgus said the wolf killings likely disrupt the social cohesion of the pack. While an intact breeding pair will keep young offspring from mating, disruption can set sexually mature wolves free to breed, leading to an increase in breeding pairs. As they have pups, they become bound to one place and can’t hunt deer and elk as freely. Occasionally, they turn to livestock.

Wielgus said wolves generally account for between .1 per cent and .6 per cent of all livestock deaths — a minor threat compared to other predators, disease, accidents and the dangers of calving. He encourages more non-lethal interventions like guard dogs, “range riders” on horseback, flags, spotlights and “risk maps” that discourage grazing animals in hard-to-protect, wolf-rich areas.

“The only way you’re going to completely eliminate livestock depredations is to get rid of all the wolves,” Wielgus said, “and society has told us that that’s not going to happen.”

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U.S. Teens Form Nonprofit To Help Save Elephants

Elephant Extinction Likely Within Decade

When Max Kauderer saw the body of a dead elephant during a family trip to Africa two years ago, it wasn’t only the body that horrified him; it was the apathy of the natives to seeing this gentle, intelligent creature killed.

“The rangers reacted to it as it were almost normal to them,” said Max, a 17-year-old Englewood resident. “It was just shocking to me. I could never get used to that. It showed me that they shouldn’t have to get used to this either.”

Save Kilimanjaro ecosystem

Seeing the murdered elephant ignited a spark in Max and his brother Josh, 16, to aid elephant conservation by starting a non-profit called “Elephant Highway,” named after the Maasai term for the paths elephants create as they travel.

While Max and Josh saw a large number of animals during their trip to Kenya and Tanzania in 2012, the two quickly fell in love with elephants. The pair were enamored with how similar elephants were to humans.

“They can show emotion, compassion and the ability to grieve,” said Max. “They play with toys, build toys and live in families. It’s pretty amazing.”

Their joy of learning more about these creatures quickly turned to horror when two park rangers came running in their lodge one afternoon, announcing that an elephant was just killed by poachers a mile and half from where the Kauderer family was staying. Max and Josh would later visit the fenced off area where the elephant was killed, where the body was still in sight.

“I knew about ivory trade and elephants being killed, but it still changes you when you see something so rapidly,” said Josh. “The smell of dead carcass; it really changes the whole situation.”

Seeing the dead elephant in person made the two brothers ask tour guides on their trip more about elephants and the ivory trade, becoming shocked about the scope of the trade.

“Crime syndicates are focusing on elephant poaching and smuggling ivory tusks,” said Josh. “It’s just as bad as any other kind of drug trade.”

According to the American Wildlife Foundation, there are 470,000 elephants remaining in 37 African countries. On a yearly basis, poachers kill 8 percent of the elephant population.

When Max and Josh returned to the United States, their experiences made them want to take a stand against poaching. They didn’t originally think of starting a non-profit, and instead focused their awareness efforts by speaking at local schools about elephant poaching. As time went on, they felt liked they wanted to do something more.

“We realized we also wanted to raise money for these organizations in Africa and make a difference there as well,” said Max.

The two went to work creating Elephant Highway, which is pending 501c3 status, to raise awareness about poaching and raise money to help African elephant conservation organizations.

The non-profit, run entirely by the two Englewood teens – which sells shirts, hoodies, and bracelets – raised approximately $10,000 since its inception in 2012. All proceeds from the merchandise, which bears the tagline “Only Elephants Should Wear Ivory,” are donated to Elephant Highway’s four non-profit partners: David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust, Big Life Foundation, Hands Off Our Elephants, and International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW).

Tanzania lion conservation

Their dedication to protecting elephants shows in the vast array of knowledge they display on the subject.

Sitting in the Starbucks in Englewood, clad in Elephant Highway gear, the two were quick to bring up the latest in elephant poaching news, from a Chinese national being arrested for possession of 4 kilograms of ivory early this year to the latest efforts by Kenya to adopt the Kenya Wildlife Act, which increases penalties for poachers.

“Within a few years, they will be extinct if we don’t do something,” said Max.

Running a non-profit is never an easy task, but for high school students, the task becomes even more difficult when trying to balance their studies, after-school sports, and clubs. As a result, most of the work for the non-profit is done on the weekend, but the two also make sure to squeeze Elephant Highway work into their schedules.

Their non-profit also offers people a chance to “Adopt-an-Elephant,” or purchase a beaded elephant keychain made by artists in northern Kenya and South Africa. This symbolic adoption sends money back to villages in Kenya and South Africa to help village economies in the hopes people will not turn toward poaching to put food on the table, said Max

“A lot of people who kill elephants for their tusks are people who don’t really have a choice,” said Max. “They are people who live in really poor regions of Africa. They’re choosing between the lives of these elephants and the lives of their families, so a lot of the times, it’s not necessarily their fault.”

Max and Josh spend many weekends packing and shipping merchandise to supporters. They also spend nine hours twice a month at street fairs during the spring and summer in Bergen County towns and New York City, hoping to spread their message.

Max and Josh spend many weekends packing and shipping merchandise to supporters. They also spend nine hours twice a month at street fairs during the spring and summer in Bergen County towns and New York City, hoping to spread their message.

While most people are aware that elephants are killed for their ivory tusks, Max said most are shocked when they discover how large the issue has become.

“People say isn’t ivory illegal?” said Max. “They don’t realize it’s still going on. Thirty-thousand elephants were killed last year. That shocks everyone I tell it to.”

Eventually, Max and Josh would also like to expand to rhino conservation, as rhinos are similarly hunted for their horns. But for now, the two will continue to save the creatures that became part of their lives in so many ways.

“If there are no elephants, the entire ecosystems in Africa would really die,” said Max.

To learn more about Elephant Highway, visit


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Wild Horses Deserve Better Treatment

Mustangs Under Pressure On Public Land

I drove out of Phoenix this week and stumbled across some small herds of wild horses. It’s been years since I last saw mustangs in Colorado. This treat really recharged my own spirit.

I’ve always loved horses. I rode competitively as a kid in small western events. I showed my horses in 4-H until I switched to sports. Then I grew older and grew away from my horses and I still regret it to this day. Like others, I just ignorantly assumed life was good for the horses of the world, while I spent my time defending abandoned kids and endangered species.

slaughter horse in U.S.

Fortunately, more of us have been called to action by the horse advocates. Like you and others, I’ve been actively advocating against horse slaughter and against the BLM stampedes by bounty hunters in helicopters–followed by horrifying conditions in holding pens (see photo below). But something about seeing these beautiful animals again through new eyes inspired me to push even harder for reforms that will end the abuse of the animals and the taxpayers. If everyone could see these magnificent creatures living unbridled lives in the wilds of the West–especially the policymakers in Washington, DC, who seem to be blind to the public will and the best use of public funds.

Unfortunately, the majority of mustangs are not roaming free like this mare and yearling above (but they must fight for their lives every day). Thousands of mustangs are locked up in stark corrals with no break from the wind or the subzero nights like those in the photo below. They don’t have a fighting chance. It’s totally up to their caretakers and mother nature.

It’s a complicated issue. But we’re talking about public lands and public property. We’re talking about taxpayer dollars being used to subsidize the private interests of a few oil and gas companies, agricultural interests and a few hunters. We have a wild horse and burro program that is misguided at best. Even the National Academy of Sciences has recommended ending the program and the Government Accounting Office has documented the waste. The time for reform is now.

Wild horses held by the BLM.

It’s the age of austerity in America. Make the next cut at BLM. Save lives and taxpayers dollars by ending the wild horse and burro cleansing program. These horses were here before the white man stole the land the first time. Write to the Secretary of the Interior, Sally Jewell. Tell her what you think about animal abuse and taxpayer abuse for the enrichment of private interests. Reach her via Twitter @SecretaryJewell

I applaud the warriors who defend our mustangs, wolves and other wild creatures around the world. Hopefully, government policy will shift to represent the will of the people, while standing against abuses of animals and taxpayers.

wild horse roundups

Finally, my big adventure this week reminded me how important it is for us to see animals in their natural habitat to really connect. We need to understand the threats that our expanding human footprint is putting on our diminishing wild spaces. Thanks to all of those dedicated souls who risk life and limb to photograph and film the amazing creatures in our world in ways that inspire us. May we all stay connected with the wild places and the wild creatures that Mother Nature/Almighty have created. May we all be better defenders and neighbors in the future.

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British Army In Kenya To Fight Poaching

Paratroopers In Kenya To Train Local Rangers

The British army is has put boots on the ground in Kenya to combat the escalating illegal wildlife trade killing rhinos and elephants in AfricaA total of 25 paratroopers in Kenya are on rotation at the army’s base in Nanyuki, 200km north of Nairobi, and will provide training to Kenyan rangers who are battling increasingly militarized poachers.

Kenyan parliamentarians are currently considering proposals to increase the penalty for poaching from the current maximum punishment of three years in prison to lifetime sentences. Kenya said last month it was going to microchip the horn of every single one of the country’s thousand rhinos in a bid to combat the trade, which is largely driven by demand from south-east Asia.

Save Kilimanjaro ecosystem

The environment secretary, Owen Paterson, who is in Kenya this week, said of the partnership: “Illegal poaching is having a devastating effect on some of the world’s most iconic species and we must work together to tackle it. By joining forces with those on the front line in Kenya, our armed services will be able to provide training and support to the courageous people who put their lives on the line every day to protect these animals.”

Brigadier Duncan Francis, defence attache based in Nairobi, said: “This is an excellent example of the British army taking positive action on an issue that is close to many people’s hearts. It is also the first time that we have carried out this kind of work. The 25 members of the parachute regiment involved in this training will be making an immense contribution to securing the future of some of the world’s most endangered species.”

The soldiers will not take part directly in operations against poachers, but provide training on how to patrol better, working more effectively as a team, and what to do if they encounter poachers. Members of the Kenyan Wildlife Service, Kenyan Forestry Service, and conservation organization Mount Kenya Trust will receive the training in the coming weeks.

An NGO-organized conference in London next February will discuss how to improve law enforcement to tackle the illegal poaching of elephant, rhino and tiger parts.


Battle To Save World’s Wildlife In China’s Hands

China Driving Wildlife Crisis

The recent seizure of 645 illegally obtained and trafficked wolf pelts from Greece at Beijing’s Capital International Airport is a commendable act by the China’s General Administration of Customs. Together with other recent seizures of elephant tusks and rhino horns in Hong Kong, the Chinese government has shown the world its growing efforts to combat the illicit wildlife trade.

Save Kilimanjaro ecosystem

These recent actions are particularly laudable because China occupies a pivotal strategic position in the global fight for wildlife protection.

China is rich in biodiversity, and is a top market for wildlife and its parts. Effective enforcement of China’s Law on the Protection of Wildlife and honoring its obligations under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species serve to protect Chinese indigenous species and those in other countries.

In recent years, China has faced the daunting task of stopping the influx of wildlife contraband and protecting the threatened species within its national borders. Chinese authorities have faced a challenging situation that has invited misunderstanding and, oftentimes, accusations.

Historically and globally, demand for expensive wildlife products follows economic prosperity. China’s rise as an economic superpower has brought with it new “status vices.” Some people with income to spare spend it on lavish and often outlandish wildlife luxury goods like rhino horn and elephant ivory. While economic prosperity is good for a nation and its people, it may spell doom for wildlife species.

China is not immune to this problem and is not alone. The US and other countries went through similar episodes during their economic development.

With the global economic balance of power shifting eastward, the rising purchasing power in East Asia has made it a new destination for illegal ivory and other wildlife products.

Ivory carving is a time-honored skill in East Asia and Southeast Asia. Governments in this rapidly modernizing region are engaged in finding a way to balance preserving cultural traditions while safeguarding the Earth’s rarest creatures for future generations. Today, all ivory carving facilities in China must be approved by the government.

A long-running debate on the Chinese Internet asks if elements of cultural tradition must evolve with the new challenges faced in the contemporary era.

There are voices for passing the ivory-carving skill to the younger generation. However, it is a shortsighted choice to allow questionable traditional practices to continue if it causes negative impact on the long-term sustainability of the global ecosystem.

China’s implementation of an ivory product identification system represents a political determination to discourage the expansion of the ivory-carving business, a wise policy decision.

As the single biggest investor in Africa, China bears responsibility to the continent’s people and wildlife.

Demand in East Asia for ivory, rhino horn and other animal products needs to be addressed, both through education and enforcement.

Moonlighting as an ivory trader, out of ignorance or deliberately, violates international laws, and is costly and hugely irresponsible. It can also damage the reputation of the law-abiding Chinese business community working hard to expand its rightful operations in the continent.

Furthermore, reports of the involvement of organized militia and terrorist groups in elephant poaching are highly troubling and could fuel instability and undermine regional security. This concerns the national interest of many countries including China.

A series of Chinese government initiatives, international partnerships, strengthened customs enforcement, and increased Chinese public concern provide strong evidence of change in the country.

As a vital force in the global alliance for wildlife protection, China’s growing commitment and efforts to combat illicit trafficking can save elephants and rhinos from extinction, while inviting global commendation for its efforts.


China, Russia, India Agree On New Tiger Protections

Tiger Survival Demands Habitat Protection

Under attack for not cracking down on the use of tiger body parts in traditional medicine, China has finalized two separate agreements with India and Russia to step up protection of tigers and other endangered species, the state-media reported Tuesday.

siberian tiger conservation

China reached an agreement with India at a meeting in Kunming city to work on protecting tiger habitats and combat illegal wildlife trade.

Indian officials here said that the two sides had reached an understanding in 2010 to share actionable intelligence with India besides nominating nodal officers for sharing of real- time information against poachers but they are not aware of any new agreement on tiger conservation.

The countries had signed an MOU on tiger conservation in 1995 which calls for efforts on both sides to stop poaching.

Indian officials believe that China’s support for tiger conservation was crucial as the demand for tiger parts, especially bones, was blamed to be the main reason for poaching of tigers in India and in other parts of the world.

The Kunming conference called the International Workshop for Transboundary Conservation of Tigers and Other Endangered Species, and the Strategy for Combating Illegal Trade in Wildlife was organized by the State Forestry Administration to observe Global Tiger Day on July 29.

At the conference, China also signed an agreement with Russia to step up cross-border cooperation to build two ecological corridors on their shared border to save the Siberian tigers’ habitat, state-run China Daily reported.

The ecological corridors will allow wild Siberian tigers to migrate freely without disturbance from humans.

Siberian tigers, according to the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF), were on the edge of extinction in the 1960s, but their numbers have recovered.

Of the roughly 450 Siberian tigers today, around 20 live in China along its border with Russia, said Wang Weisheng, Division Director of the Department of Wildlife Conservation and Nature Reserve Management under the State Forestry Administration.


Minnesota’s Moose Killed By Disease

Moose Population Dropping In Minnesota

Editor’s Note: I’m shocked to read this detailed article about moose mortality in Minnesota, but no one mentioned chronic wasting disease (CWD). Since this unstoppable disease is ravaging Wisconsin’s deer and Saskatchewan’s deer and elk. Connect the dots and you have CWD in Minnesota. Lesions on the brain and tongue, inflamed lymph nodes, patches of hair gone, can’t walk. I’m willing to bet that it is TSE (transmissible spongiform encephalopathy) otherwise known as prion disease–better known as CWD in moose. Canada recently declared that CWD is unstoppable. I concur. I would be happy to help Minnesota craft a containment plan, while there is still a chance.

By Jessica Benko  @jessicabenko, via OnEarth

The cell phone alert was designed to wake anyone from a deep sleep. “MORTALITY EVENT DETECTED,” the text message read, accompanied by a cacophony of drums and bells blaring from the phone’s speaker at top volume. It was near midnight on May 22nd, but David Pauly wasn’t asleep; he knew this call was coming. Already he had received five alarms like it over the past month, announcing that a female moose wearing a GPS tracking collar and ear tag #075 hadn’t moved for at least six hours.

70% of Minnesota's moose population has fallen to disease since 2009. Sounds like another outbreak of chronic wasting disease (CWD).

Usually, that’s enough to indicate that a moose is dead. But #075 was a survivor. Twice, her collar returned to normal status within a few hours of sending the mortality alert. The other three times, Pauly sent a field team into Minnesota’s North Woods in search of her carcass only to find the moose had rallied and moved on. But this time seemed different. Pauly had spent the previous few days examining movement data for #075 and monitoring her through a secure tracking site that showed hourly locations for GPS-collared moose in northeastern Minnesota; #075 had not moved much during that time—finally succumbing, it seemed, to illness or injury.

She was among thousands within the region’s moose population stricken in the past few years, a calamity that has pushed the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources to initiate the largest GPS study ever undertaken of moose deaths in the world.

Still, Pauly didn’t want to rouse other members of his moose retrieval team, who were based several hours away, for what could be yet another false alarm. So as the moon set, he and his elderly Springer spaniel, Butternut, climbed into Pauly’s pickup and drove deep into Superior National Forest, a three million-acre wilderness in the arrowhead-shaped northeastern region of the state. An hour later, Pauly parked in the darkness and left Butternut curled up in the passenger seat. With a VHF radio antenna in one hand and receiver in the other, Pauly—whom colleagues jokingly call “Griz,” for his resemblance to the famed mountain man Grizzly Adams—walked up a track used by snowmobiles during winter, listening for the beeps emitted on #075’s channel. They grew stronger and faster about a quarter mile up the track, pulling him off into a patch of conifers and up a steep and rocky ridge, frosted leaves crunching underfoot. She followed them with her eyes, then lay her head down on the ground, spent.

chronic wasting disease caused by prions

Pauly found #075 at the top of the ridge just as dawn broke. She was still alive, lying on her stomach with her legs under her. The quarter-ton moose flattened her ears as he approached, warning him away. She tried to rise, bracing her front hooves and heaving her chest off the ground, but her hind legs were useless.

I had also been waiting, almost 10 days now, for the alert from #075’s collar, ready to hop in my rental car with a daypack of warm layers, rain gear, water, and beef jerky. When Pauly called his team at 7:15 a.m., I joined them—a young biologist named Erik Hildebrand and a couple of on-call wildlife specialists from the Department of Natural Resources—at the snowmobile trailhead and hiked in through softening mud.

I had come to Minnesota on the trail of a mystery, the same one that drew Pauly and his team into the woods. Alces alces andersoni, the Western moose, is an icon of the North Woods, beloved of hikers and hunters, and an important driver of tourism in the state.

More than 300 businesses are named for the monarch of the forest (just in my adopted home base of Ely, I could spend my time waiting for a mortality call by wandering into The Chocolate Moose, Moose Track Adventures, Mostly Moose and More …), and the animal’s image adorns everything from T-shirts to cupcakes.

biosolids land application and disease

Yet the moose of northeastern Minnesota are dying at an alarming rate. The population has nosedived in recent years, dropping to about a third of what it was in 2009. In the past year alone, their numbers plummeted 35 percent, leaving only about 2,700 moose. That’s a mortality rate unseen anywhere else in North America—in fact, in other parts of the continent, moose are thriving. But something, or a combination of somethings, is threatening to wipe out moose from the North Woods in less than a decade, if the current decline continues unabated. Scientists suspect that everything from blood-draining ticks to brain-tunneling parasites to stress from higher temperatures—or a combination of all those factors and more—could be to blame. But to solve the mystery, they need to study dead moose, something that’s far easier said than done.

Moose usually live and die deep in the forest, where decay and scavengers claim their carcasses before scientists can reach them. The solution: GPS collars like the one worn by #075, which tell researchers when the moose have stopped moving and where to find them for quick retrieval.

When Pauly’s team and I met him on the snowmobile track, we followed him into the dark shadows of a stand of white pine, diving through low branches while long needles grazed our cheeks. We emerged into sunlight blinking at leafless oaks, maples, and birches stretching to the horizon in every direction. Hildebrand, the young biologist, scanned the contours of the land; the retrieval team would need to drag #075’s body across a dry streambed and down several steep scrambles bristling with tree trunks. Hildebrand looked at Pauly. “I thought you said this would be the easiest mortality call ever!” Another team member started laughing, and Hildebrand shook his head. “We might as well bring the gear up now,” he said, and they turned back to retrieve an industrial-rubber sled and chainsaw modified with a cable winch. Until now, all of the mortality calls had happened in the snow, a more cooperative surface for towing sleds. This, Hildebrand feared, was going to be a challenge.

biosolids land application LASS

Pauly, who has been with the Department of Natural Resources for his entire career, starting as a seasonal technician during college in the 1970s, slowed as we drew near where #075 lay, moving quietly. We gave her a wide berth, setting down packs 30 feet away. Pauly pulled out a video camera; the researchers would want video of #075 while she was still alive, if possible, as a record of her symptoms. As Pauly moved around her, #075’s ears swiveled like satellite dishes, following him. Her long face was a coppery brown, and she tested our scent with flared nostrils. The point of her withers, three feet off the ground even as she lay, still bore tufts of coarse hair, but her chest and ribcage were completely bare where she had rubbed her coat off to rid herself of hordes of winter ticks feeding on her blood.

She had deteriorated since the early morning when Pauly first found her. When she tried to push herself up, she couldn’t even get her front hooves underneath. Pauly was crouched on her far side, looking pained, and rubbed his hand over his face. I caught the scent of rotting flesh; part of the moose was already dead. Pauly carefully picked up his rifle, knowing he needed to euthanize her. Other members of the team moved in front of #075 to draw her attention. She followed them with her eyes, then lay her head down on the ground, spent. One sharp crack split the air and her great body unfolded onto the ground. Her muscles convulsed and then were still. Beside me, Pauly slowly shook his head. “No matter how many times I have to do that, it never gets any easier.”

The current North Woods moose crisis echoes an earlier collapse on the opposite side of the state, in the northwestern corner, where a healthy population thrived until the mid-1980s. Over the course of the next 20 years, their numbers crashed. Scientists attributed the vast majority of the deaths to parasites and malnutrition, both of which they believe were related to warming temperatures. From a population of 4,000, fewer than 100 moose remain in the northwest part of the state, and any rebound is almost certainly impossible.

“I was raised in northwest Minnesota, in a little town called Fertile,” recalls Mark Johnson, executive director of the Minnesota Deer Hunters Association. “As a kid in the ’60s and ’70s, we always saw moose. I remember a young bull standing in my mom’s garden, eating her peas.”

At a conference on large mammals in 2007, Johnson and his association’s board of directors were stunned by the data presented about the die-off of the northwestern moose, and by the fact that no organization was actively pushing the state legislature to allocate more resources for moose research and conservation. There were no aerial surveys of the northwestern population between 2003 and 2007, Johnson says, and there was no dedicated moose biologist at the Department of Natural Resources. The association began lobbying state lawmakers to create a moose advisory board and adopt a new management plan to replace the last one, written in 1990—before the collapse.

Across the state from the decimated northwestern population, the northeastern Minnesota moose appeared stable through the mid-2000s as aerial surveys continued to turn up roughly 8,000. But alarmed by the northwestern die-off, the department initiated a radio-collar mortality study in the northeast in 2002 to learn more about the population. Despite the relatively high survey numbers, researchers found that among the moose in their study, survival rates of both calves and adults were lower than in other healthy populations in North America, meaning their numbers weren’t likely to last long.

In 2007, Erika Butler, then a recent graduate of the University of Minnesota veterinary school newly hired by the department, decided to use outdoorsmen to study the still-sizeable northeastern moose population. When moose hunters arrived at their mandatory licensing orientation, she was ready with an educational slideshow, a sampling kit, and a request: she asked the hunters to collect biological samples from any moose they killed and bring those samples back for testing. The idea was to help the agency establish baseline values for the health of the moose. In addition to the hundreds of pounds of meat and antlers the hunters were packing out, Butler requested they add blood, feces, hair, teeth, ticks, livers, and lungs, plus brains and lymph nodes if possible.

Johnson’s association raffled off a gun or muzzle loader as an incentive for the hunters’ participation, “but I’m not sure it was absolutely necessary,” he says. “The hunters were really engaged and wanted to be part of it.” Over the next six years, until the hunt was suspended indefinitely in 2013, more than 90 percent of hunters complied, bringing Butler samples from 634 moose.

What the researchers discovered in the samples—from relatively healthy moose—was disturbing. Their findings encompassed a dizzying array of parasites and pathogens, including one that scientists have yet to identify. Four percent of the moose brains had healed-over tracks from brainworm, which can cause death if the worm burrows through critical tissues of the brain. Another ten percent had brain lesions of unidentifiable origins. Thirty percent had cysts in their livers from Fascioloides magna, giant liver flukes that can grow up to three inches long and migrate elsewhere in the body.

More than 30 percent tested positive for the mosquito-borne West Nile virus, which biologists already knew was present in the population. But they were surprised to find what Butler calls West Nile’s “evil twin,” Eastern Equine Encephalitis. EEE is far more lethal than West Nile, killing 70 to 90 percent of the horses that contract it within days (and, worryingly, 33 percent of humans, leaving the survivors severely impaired). EEE had never been detected in Minnesota, in any animal, and its lethality in moose remains unknown.

In addition to the diseases and parasites afflicting the moose, the Minnesota researchers have also found that rising temperatures correlate to higher mortality rates in both the state’s northwestern and northeastern moose. Average temperatures have been rising in Minnesota over the past 50 years, and the rate is accelerating. The relationship between higher temperatures and moose survival isn’t yet clear, but some researchers think that moose become physically stressed by the effort to keep cool.

Although temperatures are also rising elsewhere in North America, the problem seems to be one of thresholds. Moose are adapted for extreme cold, and Minnesota’s North Woods are at the southern boundary of their range on the continent. Researchers in one small study observed moose beginning to pant in order to cool themselves when the temperature rose above just 23 degrees F in winter, when they are carrying a heavy double-layered coat. In summer, temperatures as low as the 60s can cause moose to seek shade. At higher temperatures, their need to keep cool can override their pursuit of the 50 to 70 pounds of food they need to eat each day. The warming trend in Minnesota is bringing an increasing number of days above those thresholds for the moose. There are currently no data to support a direct causal relationship, but some moose biologists suspect stress at critical times of the year may put them at greater risk of dying from predators, parasites, and diseases they might otherwise have been able to fight off.

Winter ticks are proliferating as the climate warms, with tens of thousands—sometimes even more than a hundred thousand—found on a single moose.

Warmer temperatures are also beneficial to some of the parasites that plague the moose. Brainworm and liver flukes are spread by white-tailed deer, which pass them on to the moose but are, themselves, mostly untroubled by the freeloaders. Since a round of severe winters in the mid-90s, deer density has steadily increased in northern Minnesota. Winter ticks are also proliferating as the climate warms and can be found in the tens of thousands—sometimes even more than a hundred thousand—on a single moose, taking blood meals en masse that can weaken and kill both calves and adults. Infested moose trying to rid themselves of the ticks will rub their coat off down to the skin, risking hypothermia in winter and secondary infections from abrasions.

The state researchers are trying to work out how much danger each factor poses by itself and how they’re compounded by the others—or whether there might be another threat they haven’t yet recognized. To solve the mystery, the researchers needed to study as many dead moose as possible. So in 2011, Butler and Glenn DelGuidice, the state’s lead moose biologist, proposed the ambitious GPS-collaring project. Knowing taxpayer money was scarce, they arranged to pay for the $1.2 million study through a combination of private donations, in-kind personnel and lab support, and the state’s Environmental and Natural Resources Trust Fund, which is funded by profits from the state lottery and covered half of the study’s costs.

For two weeks in January of this year, the researchers captured more than 100 adult moose using helicopters and tranquilizer guns. Butler, Pauly, and their crew were dropped into chest-deep snow in temperatures well into the negative double digits to fit the moose with GPS-enabled collars. (Fortunately for me, reporters weren’t allowed.) Each time the team captured a moose, it took measurements of the animal’s size and fat layer, collecting blood to test for nutrients, diseases, and hormones. The brick-sized battery hanging at the bottom of the collar can last for six years and Butler is anticipating the other components will last at least four; if a moose dies during that time, and if the study is extended, the researchers will have a record of its basic health markers and an hour-by-hour record of the animal’s life post-capture. Data transmitted from the GPS sensor fastened at the top of the collar can show them where the animal ate and slept and where it sought shelter on warm days.

Already this spring and early summer, 15 of the adult moose have died. Sometimes they’re too distant or difficult to bring back to the lab, and Pauly and his field crews conduct necropsies on the spot. But whenever possible, they use their rubber sleds and chainsaw winches to heave the carcass out of the forest for a full examination.

It was a 250-mile drive from the spot where moose #075 died to the D-Lab, the veterinary diagnostic lab at the University of Minnesota in St Paul. Hildebrand and I arrived at half-past midnight and were met by a sleepy on-call student, rubbing her eyes and pulling on rubber boots over her sweatpants. Hildebrand backed the truck into the loading bay, and the student wrapped chains around the legs of the carcass, hauling it up with a hydraulic winch and steering it along heavy ceiling tracks into a huge refrigerator where wildlife, livestock, and pets awaited investigations of their mysterious deaths.

I showered off the blood and mud of the 16-hour day and managed a few hours of sleep at a nearby motel. The next morning, revived by several cups of coffee, I donned safety glasses, an apron, and plastic boot covers before entering the floor of the D-Lab, hoping this necropsy might yet uncover the smoking gun responsible for the decline of the moose population.

Arno Wünschmann, one of the veterinary pathologists for the moose mortality project, stood out against the backdrop of stainless steel. He wore all white—scrubs, rubber apron, and boots—amid butchering implements and decomposing carcasses.

“I think we’ve got all our brightest people working on getting the weight now!” he announced to me, teasing a pair of students who were struggling with the dangling carcass of #075. Wuenschmann was sharpening his knives with a rhythmic swick-swick-swick. “Poor thing,” he trailed off as #075 was lowered onto a stainless steel wheeled table with a drain hole. Wuenschmann has necropsied some 50 moose—radio-collared moose, road-killed moose, and moose found dead by civilians—since coming to work at the university from his native Germany in 2000, and he’s not sure how many more to expect over the next few years as Butler’s study proceeds. Even if the recovery teams only get 10 percent of the moose out of the forest, the field necropsies should provide the blood and organs he needs to evaluate the factors in each animal’s death. As an expert in infectious disease, with a special interest in West Nile Virus, Wuenschmann will be watching carefully for the appearance of deadly viruses as mosquito season gets underway.

He noted the extent of #075’s hair loss, plucking off a few ticks for testing, then began methodically deconstructing the carcass with a sound like a seam ripper as he split the hide. Once Wuenschmann had opened the moose’s rib cage with the assistance of branch cutters, an assistant removed her heart and lungs, and dissected her carotid arteries, which were clear of parasitic worms. Wuenschmann removed her platter-sized liver, pronouncing it “pretty” and free of any obvious liver flukes. There were several visibly infected sores on her tongue, and abscesses in her lungs, and her lymph nodes were inflamed. As he moved toward her haunches, Wuenschmann navigated carefully with his knife. The entire pelvis was a mass of infected tissue the consistency of dried leather covered in grainy mud. This, he was fairly certain, was the cause of death: a systemic infection throughout her bloodstream, stemming from an injury between her legs and leading to the lesions he had observed on her tongue and lungs.

The degree of tissue death led him to believe the infection was probably a few weeks old, which gave the researchers a good guess at the source of the injury. When her collar had triggered a the first mortality alert a month earlier, the crew that went to retrieve her found instead evidence of a standoff: a trampled disc of snow with wolf prints arrayed around it. Nearby they saw a few drops of blood, and a small piece of tissue. It seemed almost certain now that #075 was the source of the blood, that the wolves had made contact and landed at least one bite; bacteria did the rest, taking down the enormous animal that the wolves could not.

I turned at the sound of a hack saw to see one of the assistants struggling to remove the top of the skull, finally revealing the brain, pale and pink, and not much bigger than a mango. It would be preserved for inspection under a microscope, to look for evidence of brainworm infection.

Five months into the mortality study, 92 of the 107 moose collared back in January remain. Wolves killed five, not including #075 and one other moose that died from an apparent attack and subsequent infections. (Researchers think that wolves cause fewer than 10 percent of adult moose deaths overall each year, but the predators have their greatest success in late winter, when moose are weakened by dwindling fat stores and hindered by deep or crust-covered snow.) Winter ticks drained the blood from three (which can cause anemia and fluid buildup around the heart), brainworm excavated the brain and eye of another, and as-yet-undetermined causes took another four. But none of those causes of death tell the full story. It will take several years of data collection for the researchers to tease out patterns of co-infection by parasites and disease and correlations with temperature and habitat changes due to climate change.

Moose are still plentiful elsewhere in the cooler climes of North America. Some 200,000 roam the Alaskan wilds. As many as a million inhabit the Canadian interior. In New England, the rebounding of moose populations over the past 30 years has been one of the great comeback stories of conservation. Heavily logged forests have regrown, spreading ideal moose habitat—a mix of pine and spruce with oak and birch and maple, not dissimilar from the forests of Minnesota—over the mountains of the northeast. An aerial survey in Maine last year turned up an estimated population of 76,000 animals. New Hampshire doesn’t conduct an aerial count, but by the state’s best estimate, it had 6,500 moose a few years ago, concentrated in the Great North Woods.

But New Hampshire moose hunters have had decreasing success over the past decade, indicating to biologists that the population might be declining. In 2012, managers cut the number of hunting licenses by two thirds, concerned there may now be only 4,500 moose left in the state, which, like Minnesota, is part of the ragged southern border of their range. The suspects are familiar: exploding tick populations, rising temperatures, shorter winters, and flourishing white-tailed deer and their parasites. Without an intensive mortality study of their own underway, New Hampshire’s wildlife managers are watching Minnesota with trepidation.

Signs of trouble are appearing elsewhere in the moose’s southern range. Wildlife managers in Montana and Wyoming are counting fewer adults and fewer surviving calf moose each year. Across the border from Minnesota, populations of moose in southern Manitoba have begun dropping too, prompting the government to cancel the annual hunt in several parts of the province.

“We know we might be too late to stop the decline,” Dave Pauly told me, “but the results of this research can guide our management strategies.” Reducing the deer population and actively managing forests through prescribed burning and logging to create better habitat for the moose could help them withstand the onslaught of parasites and disease.

If there’s any benefit to be gained from the rapid decline of the North Woods monarch, it’s that the moose of northeastern Minnesota have now become the most intensely studied moose population on the planet. What researchers learn from these animals will yield valuable knowledge about the changing ecology of the northern forests.

A week after #075’s death, Pauly already had his eye on another moose, observing movement data from the tracking satellites as her numbers shrank. He was fairly certain she was only hours from death, and he didn’t want to lose her to scavengers. There wasn’t enough time to muster a field team that day, but he and Butternut were only about an hour and a half drive from her location. So he decided to get in and out of the woods to check on her before darkness fell.

He parked in drizzling rain off a forest service road and picked up the radio signal from her collar right away. Picking his way through the mist, he was focused on the blips coming from the VHF receiver, trying to find a good angle down the slope, when he stumbled on a little clutch of bones directly in his path. It was just a few pieces, but he knew what he had found: hoof sheaths, pieces of ribs, and long bones from a very young calf—most likely the offspring of the moose he was tracking. Just a few feet away, he spotted a wolf scat.

Pauly collected the remains and trekked down the hill, flushing two startled ravens and a bald eagle up over the trees. He told himself they were probably scavenging on the rest of the calf parts, still holding a shred of hope that the mother might be alive as the signal from her collar grew more insistent. He saw no signs of a struggle as he approached, no broken branches, no gouges in the dirt, no tufts of hair, or blood, no evidence of any fight. At the edge of the bog, beneath undisturbed branches of alder and willow, he found the mother moose’s final bed. There wasn’t much left to unravel the story of her final days—just her skull, a few bits of tissue, and some gnawed-on bones. Pauly had gotten to her as fast as he could, but the wolves had found her first. Her death might offer no answers, but Pauly would keep looking.


Chronic Wasting Disease Near Yellowstone National Park

Environmental Nightmare Unstoppable

Elk winter feed grounds in western Wyoming should be phased out to curb the potential spread of Chronic Wasting Disease (prion disease) in elk. That is what Lloyd Dorsey of the Greater Yellowstone Coalition in Jackson recommends, using information he gathered from Wyoming Game & Fish Department reports.

Chronic wasting disease, or CWD, has been detected 40 miles from Yellowstone National Park and 45 miles from winter elk feedgrounds, according to a coalition map. Chronic wasting disease is a fatal disease of the central nervous system of deer, Rocky Mountain elk and (rarely) moose, according to the Game & Fish.

chronic wasting disease caused by prions

The 2012 department information reveals the farthest western advance of CWD positive deer in Wyoming, yet.

The disease occurs at a higher rate in deer areas than elk areas. Chronic wasting disease might arrive in feed grounds, but it hasn’t so far, and they can’t predict whether it will, said Game & Fish information specialist Al Langston in Cheyenne. But other experts sounded a warning.

“Finally, our results demonstrate that high-density elk populations (10 to 100 elk per kilometer squared) can support relatively high rates of CWD (.10 percent prevalence) that may substantially affect the dynamics of such populations,” stated an 2013 article by Ryan J. Monello and associates in “The Journal of Wildlife Diseases.”

“The good news is that the disease has not been detected at the feedgrounds or national parks yet,” said Bruce Smith, a retired U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service biologist and former biologist at the National Elk Refuge in Jackson. “Managers can still act to responsibly phase out winter feeding of elk and limit the effects of this and other diseases.”

Game & Fish staffers search for the disease by collecting and analyzing wild ungulate lymph nodes, mostly from animals harvested by hunters. Testing is very reliable using lymph nodes. Analyzing live animal samples is not as accurate, Langston said.

land application sewage sludge

A total of 2,017 deer, elk and moose samples were examined in 2012. Of those samples, 98 tested positive for CWD, including 78 mule deer, six white-tailed deer and 14 elk. New cases of the disease were diagnosed in deer hunt areas 132 (west of Flaming Gorge) and 157 (east of Pavillion) as well as elk hunt area 10 (west of Laramie).

These hunt areas all are bordered by known positive areas or states and are most likely natural extensions of the endemic area, according to a Game & Fish 2013 CWD report.

The state’s only CWD-positive elk are in southeastern Wyoming, but CWD-positive deer do occupy the Big Horn Basin, according to a Game & Fish 2012 map.

No elk harvested in western Wyoming tested positive last year. If those elk had not been killed by hunters, they would have wintered in the feedgrounds, Langston said.

chronic wasting disease and moose

A total of 3,273 deer, elk and moose samples were analyzed in 2011. Of those samples, 109 tested positive for CWD, representing 81 mule deer, 16 white-tailed deer and 12 elk. One new case of the disease was diagnosed in deer hunt area 165 (north of Meeteetse). Area 165 is bordered by known positive areas and likely a natural extension of the endemic area, said a 2012 Game & Fish report.

“Rocky Mountain elk do very well without feedgrounds, for the most part,” Dorsey said.

For example, in the Gros Ventre area there are three feedgrounds, but there also is good winter range. Conflicts could be mitigated.

“We’d be happy to help find resources to build elk-proof fences to help keep elk separate from cattle and horses during winter and spring, and prevent inter-species transmission of brucellosis,” Dorsey said.

About 80 percent of the elk in seven herd units comprising west-central Wyoming use the feedgrounds. Although nobody knows how many, there would be fewer elk without feedgrounds, said Brandon Scurlock, a Game & Fish brucellosis program supervisor in Pinedale.

Typically, the units are at or over population objectives, Dorsey said. As examples, the Jackson herd objective is 11,000 elk. The 2012 estimate was 11,051. The Fall Creek herd objective is 4,400. The 2012 estimate was 4,500. There are 23 feed grounds in western Wyoming. Of those, 22 are managed by the state and one, the National Elk Refuge in Jackson, is run by the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service.

Brucellosis is endemic in elk populations that visit elk feedgrounds in western Wyoming. It also is found in some elk herds that do not attend elk feedgrounds, but typically at a lower rate, Dorsey said.

Now is the time to phase out the feed grounds before a CWD epidemic occurs in those areas, Dorsey said.

CWD News via

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Crossbow Communications specializes in issue management and public affairs. Alzheimer’s disease, Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease, chronic wasting disease and the prion disease epidemic is an area of special expertise. Please contact Gary Chandler to join our coalition for reform

Botswana A Leader In Elephant Conservation

Botswana Has Largest Elephant Population In The World

With more than 150,000 elephants, Botswana hosts the largest elephant population in the world, thanks to decades of heightened legal protection. This was said by Dr Chris Brooks, biodiversity coordinator at the Southern African Regional Environmental Program (SAREP), presenting on behalf of EcoStars at the handing over of the rehabilitated Shakawe Community Training and Craft Centre recently.

Botswana elephant herd

Brooks said while these gains paint a positive image for the future of the species, rural communities reliant on subsistence agriculture are often less than enthusiastic about the sight of elephants. “Crop raids, property damage, and even human attacks have made elephants an unwanted pest, threatening food security and human safety hence mitigation a necessity in the conflict,” said Brooks.

Brooks said the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) is responding to these challenges by providing funding and technical assistance to EcoStars, a local organization out to conserve Botswana’s wildlife. He said EcoStars and USAID will employ innovative strategies to minimize human-elephant conflict, including the use of solar-powered electric fences and the cultivation of chili powder, a plant known to be a major irritant to elephants. He further shared with the participants, among them commissioners from Angola, Namibia and Botswana OKACOM, that the chilli pepper technique, which has seen positive results in Zimbabwe, Zambia and Namibia, will afford farmers a low-cost option to deter elephants from raiding crops and human settlements.

“These techniques will allow communities to enjoy increased food security, while also protecting elephants that have been historically shot and killed or injured when encroaching on human settlements,” he said.

Meanwhile, EcoStars and USAID will explore opportunities for communities to employ elephants to their advantage as part of a strategy to mitigate human-elephant conflict.Brooks says EcoStars will also conduct a feasibility assessment of the potential of elephant tourism that will allow tourists to stay in camp sites and possibly lodge adjacent to trails and watering holes. He further said elephant tourism would provide diversified livelihoods for low-resource communities.

“Elephant tourism is one part of a holistic, multifaceted approach to dealing with the elephant conflict,” Graham McCulloch, a director at EcoStars is quoted saying on the USAID website.


Badger Cull Or Mad Cow Disease

Badger Cull Covering Up Infected Soil

Despite a public outcry from the majority of people in the UK, the government and the agriculture industry have proceeded with a highly controversial badger cull. The official story is that it’s to help contain tuberculosis (TB), which can spread from badgers to cattle. In the livestock industry, TB is a death sentence for an infected animal and in some cases entire herds.

However, as ground zero in the war on Mad Cow disease, I’m curious if the UK has a hidden agenda that should be discussed. I propose that they test every dead badger for prion disease. As you probably know, prions are the deadly pathogen responsible for causing Mad Cow disease and other forms of prion diseases. Badgers are likely falling to prion disease because of infected soil. Killing them eliminates a symptom of a bigger health threat in the food and water supplies.

badger cull

Why not test the badgers for prion disease?

  • In the 1980s, the UK killed thousands upon thousands of cattle because of concerns over Mad Cow disease. It’s unknown how many of those cows actually had the disease, but several cases were verified and you don’t wipe out a nation’s entire herd over a frivolous concern.
  • Many of these infected carcasses were just buried, while others were incinerated and the smoke plumes filled the sky. This reckless disposal may have spread the disease further into the soil, groundwater, air and surface water. The world has a tendency to underestimate the prion threat. Buried carcasses may have attracted badger colonies.
  • Prions are deposited in the soil by infected animals’ urine, feces, blood, saliva and tissue.
  • Prions are known to persist in soil for a very long time (some mutated forms might be lethal forever).
  • Prions are known to mutate, migrate and multiply, which means prion-infected animals may have just been the tip of a growing iceberg.
  • Badgers live in the soil where the risk of prion exposure is high.
  • In Wisconsin, mink contracted prion disease by eating the carcasses (and protein meal) of downer cattle that likely had Mad Cow disease.
  • There is not an isolated case of Mad-cow, or any prion disease. The disease can’t be cured and infectious prions can’t be stopped. Cattle are still getting sick from prion disease across the UK and Europe despite the ban on feeding dead cattle back to other cattle. More than 170 cases have been confirmed since 1995.
  • The disease itself is contributing to deadly forms of environmental contamination that essentially recycle and redistribute the disease.
  • A responsible prion surveillance program will test the badger vector since they are determined to kill hundreds and possibly thousands of these tough little creatures. Such a test will help us understand the contagious nature of soil and water runoff.
  • Biosolids and reclaimed wastewater could be infecting badgers with prion disease from humans.

“Prions can survive for years in soil,” (Brown, et al 1991). “Animals can become infected from prions in soil,” (Miller, et al 2004).

biosolids land application and disease

Furthermore, prions can wash from the soil and migrate through irrigation and surface water runoff and settle in groundwater, streams, ponds, lakes, and oceans—where they proceed to multiply and mutate into even more abundant and lethal forms. Wildlife, livestock and humans (especially children) can ingest prions from soil exposure, water exposure, or food. We can’t afford to take the risk of further contaminating entire watersheds – increasing the pathway to humans, livestock, and wildlife downstream.

If the above chain of logic isn’t enough, let’s consider two other potential pathways.

  • Feedlot Waste. Farmers and feedlots will take cattle manure and urine from pens, corals and other holding facilities and spread it on their farmland and pastures where animals graze. My guess is that these are the same facilities that held thousands of at-risk animals back in the Mad Cow epidemic. Every infected animal in these facilities contaminated them permanently with their urine, feces, blood, and saliva. Those facilities are likely still in service today—exposing captive animals and spreading the risk further as fertilizer.
  • Biosolids and Reclaimed Sewage Water. Humans contract prion disease, too, which means our bodily fluids also can transport prions to new pathways (including reclaimed sewage water, sewage sludge—biosolids).

“Prions have been found in the blood and urine of CJD victims,” Gabizon, et al, 2001; Reichl, et al 2002. “Undertakers and medical facilities routinely discharge CJD infected blood and body fluids into public sewers,” Yale, UC Davis, Center for Disease Control.

EPA National Water Research Compendium 2009-2014 lists prions eight times as an emerging contaminant of concern in sewage sludge (biosolids), water and manure.

Renowned prion researcher, Joel Pedersen, University of Wisconsin, found that prions become 680 times more infective in certain soils.

Oral transmissibility of prion disease is enhanced by binding to soil particles. Dr. Pedersen and associates found that anaerobic digestion in sewage treatment did not inactivate prions in sludge. Persistence of pathogenic prion protein during simulated wastewater treatment processes.

biosolids land application LASS

In the July 3, 2010 issue of Veterinary Record, Dr. Pedersen stated, “the disposal of sludge was considered to represent the greatest risk of spreading (prion) infectivity to other premises.

“Given it is unlikely that the sewage treatment or pellet production processes can effectively deactivate prions, adopting measures to prevent the entry of prions into the sewer system is advisable,” Toronto (Canada) Department of Health, Nov. 2004.

“Pathogen free” is clearly not the case when the Class A sludge compost can contain infectious human and animal prions. Not only are livestock and wildlife at risk from ingesting prion infected soil and sludge, but humans, and particularly children, are especially at risk because their hand to mouth behavior results in the ingestion of dirt,
(Robischon, 1971; LaGoy, 1987; Binder, et al 1986; Gerba, et al 2002; CDC, Callahan, 2004).

In humans, we have conveniently given prion disease more sophisticated names, but they are equally as savage and deadly. After all, who wants to die from Mad Cow disease? Spin doctors call the human form Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease and often blur the lines by calling it Alzheimer’s disease. Pioneering research by Nobel Prize winners and others have now determined that Alzheimer’s disease is a prion disease, which explains why there is not a cure.

Alzheimer's disease epidemic

While the death rate from most major diseases are declining, the death rate from Alzheimer’s disease is rising (at least in the United States. My guess is that it’s a global trend.) The differing characteristics in the diseases are likely due to the fact that prions are known to mutate and the genetic makeup of different people and different species likely accounts for other variances in disease characteristics. Most coroners refuse to conduct an autopsy on the body of a person who had prion disease. They know how contagious the body is and how deadly prions are. Meanwhile, these people used public toilets from the point of infection until the day they died. Therefore, the sewage system is permanently contaminated with prions just from one sick patient. What if there have been thousands of infected people? Where has that sewage gone? Badger country. Cattle country. Watersheds that collect rainwater above the streams, ponds, lakes, rivers and oceans.

To make a long story a little longer, we have pissed in the pool. We owe it to ourselves and our grandchildren to understand the dangers of these foolish practices. Is the badger cull an attempt to rid the countryside of badgers before they are seen dying of prion disease and recycling it back to other animals and livestock? Or is it really just a TB containment precaution? I won’t get into the politics of the matter, but I will hammer on the logic of testing these innocent creatures. If there is a prion epidemic in our soil, we all deserve the truth while there is still a chance of partial containment. Once the prion problem reaches a tipping point, it will change life as we know it.

To learn more about prions and prion disease, please keep reading. We also have a library on this site archived for your review.

prion disease epidemic


Mad Cow disease, technically known as Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy (BSE), is one of many deadly prion diseases (technically referred to as Transmissible Spongiform Encephalopathy (TSE).

We know prion disease as:

  • Mad-cow disease (or BSE in cattle)
  • Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease (CJD in humans)
  • Chronic wasting disease (CWD in wildlife such as deer, elk and moose)
  • Scrapie (sheep).

The common denominator in all of these diseases is the prion. In addition, about 10-25 percent of Alzheimer’s disease cases are misdiagnosed—they are actually CJD. In fact, according to Dr. Claudio Soto at the University of Texas, Alzheimer’s is a prion disease. When you sift through the smokescreen and lump these diseases together, it begs the question “do we have a deadly epidemic on our hands and is it being mismanaged.”

Prions are a form of protein that cannot be effectively stopped. They can’t be killed because they are not a virus or bacteria and they don’t contain DNA or RNA. These pathological proteins mutate, migrate, multiply, and intensify. Prion diseases kill everything in their path. In reality, there is no way to contain the disease. There is no cure—prion disease is always fatal.

Prions are a lethal threat to our food and water supplies. We also risk exposure and infection at hospitals, dental offices, restaurants, and through pet food. The buildup of prions in the environment will get worse with time. Mismanagement is accelerating the process. Various forms of prion disease are already spreading around the world, building up in soil and water, and building up in the bodies of virtually every living creature on the planet. The incubation period and the onset of clinical signs of the disease usually take years, which makes these diseases easier to ignore and more difficult to study.

Dr. Stanley Prusiner, an American neuroscientist from the University of California at San Francisco, earned a Nobel Prize in 1997 for discovering and studying deadly prions. President Obama awarded Prusiner the National Medal of Science in 2010 to recognize the growing significance of his discovery. Although his research is ongoing, we know enough about prions to sound the alarm on many levels.

U.S. Department of Homeland Security Sounds The Alarm

Prions are such a formidable threat that the U.S. government enacted the Bioterrorism Preparedness and Response Act of 2002, which included a provision to halt research on infectious prions in all but two laboratories. Now, infectious prions are classified as select agents that require special security clearance for lab research.

Thanks to Dr. Prusiner’s discovery and pioneering research, prion disease has been found in humans, livestock and a variety of wildlife species in several countries, including Austria, Canada, Czech Republic, Finland, Germany, Greece, Israel, Italy, Japan, Poland, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, United Kingdom, and the United States.

chronic wasting disease caused by prions

Not only are prion diseases a symptom of a much bigger problem, they are contributing to the buildup of prions in the environment.  A person or animal with prion disease is contaminating their immediate environment and exposing nearby humans and animals to deadly prions.

The Threat to Public Health

The prion pathogen spreads through urine, feces, saliva, blood, milk, soil, and the tissue of infected animals and humans—including muscle tissue. (Contrary to industry reports and a controversial statement from the World Health Organization, research suggests that milk is a pathway to prion exposure.

If a single person with prion disease discharges bodily fluids or feces into a public sewer system, that sewage system is permanently infected and the amount of contamination will multiply and intensify over time. Everything discharged from that sewage system—reclaimed water or biosolids—is at risk of spreading the contamination even further.

sewage treatment plant and disease

Humans with Creutzfeldt-Jakob Disease (CJD) also are shedding infectious prions into toilets, public sewers and elsewhere (including dental offices and eating utensils). Between 2 and 25 percent of the 4.5 million cases of Alzheimer’s disease and senile dementia victims in the U.S. alone are actually infected with sporadic CJD, creating the reality that many thousands of CJD victims are shedding infectious prions throughout their home and everywhere they visit, (Manuelidis, et al, 1989; Boller, et al, 1989, 1995; Harrison, 1991; Teixeira, 1995; Warren, et al, 2005).

Similar pathways exist from an infected cow, sheep, or deer. When infected animals use fields and feedlots, their urine, feces, saliva, and blood permanently contaminates those areas. That contamination becomes bio-available to every creature that follows the path of the infected animal.

mad cow disease and prions

Mad-Cow Precautions Are Inadequate and Short-Sighted

For example, in Canada, out of 55,415 cows tested for BSE in 2006, five head of cattle were identified with BSE. If the U.S. only tests 40,000 head of cattle and detects one animal with BSE out of that miniscule test group, we must assume that hundreds more infected animals are missed out of the millions milked and slaughtered each year. Based on those statistics, without comprehensive testing globally, we must assume that beef and dairy operations are producing hundreds of sick animals each year that are being milked, slaughtered and consumed by humans, pets, fish farms, and even other forms of livestock and poultry. In addition, the land at the feedlot or dairy is contaminated with manure and urine that often is scraped out and used as compost and fertilizer on farms and gardens, which expands the pathways for deadly prions to reach unsuspecting families.

With these characteristics and dynamics, there is not an isolated case of Mad-cow or any prion disease. The California dairy where the recent infected animal lived and produced milk is contaminated (two dairies have been quarantined since the discovery of that case of BSE). If the infected cow provided milk to a processor, that supply chain is now in question and those supply chains should be quarantined. In fact, all exposed milk should have been immediately recalled from that entire supply chain. The pathways of that milk still should be traced and condemned.

If the infected animal was rendered for pet food, that rendering plant is now permanently contaminated and will contaminate everything that is processed from now on—exposing our pets to the deadly disease and creating a new pathway in our homes—food bowls that also are permanently contaminated (in fact, an undisclosed rendering plant has been quarantined).

If livestock with BSE is actually processed at a slaughterhouse, that slaughterhouse also is permanently contaminated and will contaminate every carcass that follows the infected animal down the production line. Compounding the problem is the fact that liquid wastes from slaughterhouses are rinsed down the drainpipe and into the municipal sewage system, where they add to the risks associated with that waste stream.

 Deadly Prion Pathways

Milk and Meat: As stated earlier, highly infectious risk-material (brain and spine) is not the only pathway to prion exposure. Prions have been found in muscle tissue and milk.

Lessons From The United Kingdom: Initially, UK officials insisted the Mad-cow epidemic was not a risk to humans. After 150 human vCJD deaths, they admitted that they were wrong.

“Thousands of pages of grisly detail on meat-pie making and animal-feed milling might seem like a hard read. As bureaucrats digest the final report of Britain’s BSE inquiry, handed to ministers on October 2nd, 2000 stomachs at the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (MAFF) and the Department of Health must be churning. Not at the finer points of carcass-rendering, but at what is expected to be a thorough dissection of bureaucratic incompetence. Ministers will be considering the findings until the report is presented to Parliament on October 23rd. Three days later, the public will at last be allowed to read the report into Britain’s biggest public-health scandal for decades.

The independent inquiry was established by the UK government to work out the history of two epidemiological crises, bovine spongiform encephalopathy (mad-cow disease) and its human relative, new-variant Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease (VCJD). The inquiry’s three-person committee, headed by Lord Phillips, a high-court judge, was also asked to assess whether government and industry responded adequately to the situation as it evolved.

Roughly £27m ($39.4m) and 630 witnesses later, the Phillips report is widely expected to be the definitive word on what went wrong in Britain between the first documented cases of BSE in 1986 and the announcement in Parliament, ten years later, that the strange neurodegenerative condition appearing in a handful of young people, now called VCJD, was probably linked to mad-cow disease.” – The Economist, October 5, 2000.

The Full report from the UK’s BSE Inquiry is available here.

Furthermore, almost 4,000 Britons aged between 10 and 30 may be harboring the prion proteins that cause the human form of Mad-cow disease. The new estimate comes from direct analyses of human biopsies (tonsils), and is much higher than epidemiological projections of the likely number of deaths from variant Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease (vCJD).

treat Alzheimer's disease

For years, industry experts and government regulators insisted infectious prions could not be found in blood or muscle except for infected sheep and goats. Prions have since been found in blood and muscle of human vCJD and sCJD victims and in the leg muscle tissue of infected deer.

Even organic supplies are not immune from the prion problem. For example, if an organic farm is downstream from a traditional farm that has an animal with BSE, the water runoff from that farm will expose the organic operation downstream to deadly prions.

Let’s assume that everything that the beef and dairy industries, and the USDA, have said about the latest example of Mad-cow disease is true. The tested animal was sent to a rendering plant and was never destined for the food supply.

  1. How much milk did that dairy cow produce before it exhibited clinical signs of the deadly disease? Where did that milk go? On what date was this sick dairy cow withdrawn from the production line? We know that animals are contagious, and shed prions via bodily fluids, including milk, long before they exhibit clinical signs of the disease.
  2. How many other dairy cows have this fatal and contagious disease, but don’t exhibit the clinical signs, yet? How much milk are these animals producing every day?

Alzheimer's disease and contaminated dental surgical instruments

Surgical and Dental Procedures: We can’t sterilize surgical equipment used on people who have prion disease. Prions are so resistant to sterilization that surgical instruments used on a person with CJD must be disposed because they are permanently contaminated.  Hospitals have been sued successfully for exposing subsequent patients to deadly prions.

Dental and oral surgery settings have the same challenge, but those industries have ignored those risks for the most part.

Growth Hormones and Blood Transfusions: Most growth hormones are made from the pituitary brain of dead cattle or cloned from the DNA of that pituitary gland (bad idea). One infected gland in the production facility and all future products are permanently contaminated. Dairy and beef producers could be injecting BSE directly into live animals with this practice. Similar practices (taking the pituitary gland from cadavers) have killed people from prion disease, including this very recent case from May 2012:

It’s time to stop using growth hormones in beef and dairy cattle. Even if the hormone itself is free of prion disease, what does a growth hormone do to a prion? Has industry or regulators even conducted studies on this dynamic? People have contracted prion disease from infected hormones, infected blood and infected organ transplants. We must assume that the same risk is present for livestock.

Recent studies of variant Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease (vCJD) indicate that this disease is transmissible by blood. One case of probable transfusion-transmitted vCJD infection has been reported, and one case of subclinical infection has been detected. On February 9, 2006, a third case was announced by the UK Health Protection Agency

Each of the three patients had received a blood transfusion from a donor who subsequently developed clinical vCJD, which indicates that transfusion caused the infection.

Pet Food: How many infected animals are sent to a rendering plant, never tested for BSE, and are churned into food for dogs, cats, poultry, fish, and zoo animals? What is the likelihood that we are feeding deadly food to our pets? If and when contaminated, that food dish is another pathway for the prion pathogen to enter our homes and bodies, not to mention the risk to our pets. How often do you actually touch that pet food or the dish? How often do you wash that bowl in your kitchen sink?

Aquaculture: Many fish farms use specified risk material—SRM (brain and spinal cords) from slaughterhouses and rendering plants as protein meal. What is the likelihood that infected material from a slaughterhouse or a rendering plant was sent to a fish farm (either in a large lagoon or in the open ocean) and dumped into the water and consumed by farmed fish (and wild fish and mammals such as dolphins and whales). Since every microscopic prion can’t be consumed, how much water are we contaminating every year to extend this science experiment via new pathways.

This questionable practice puts the health of the fish at risk and those who eat the fish. Secondly, the water that the risk material is dumped becomes contaminated with prions, which threatens groundwater, surface water runoff, streams, rivers, and oceans with deadly prions. This factor could be contributing to the deaths of dolphins and whales and it could be contributing to prion disease in people. Many fish have contracted Whirling disease, which could be a form of prion disease (needs research that this author has not conducted, yet).

Animal Rendering & Anaerobic Digestion Of Carcasses: “It’s necessary to use additional heat at the end of the rendering process to fully inactivate pathogens.  However, even with this, prions are not inactivated,” APHIS/USDA, January 2005.

“While finished compost can be spread on farmland as fertilizer, if prions are present and the compost is used as fertilizer prions can re-enter the food chain through grazing plants, hay and straw obtained from those areas. Thus, composting should not be used to dispose of infected deer, elk, sheep, goats, or cattle. Composting is especially unsuitable for specified risk materials, especially neural tissues (skull and spinal cord) encased in bones. The indiscriminate use of composting and spreading its byproducts on agricultural land is inconsistent with the FDA feed rule, would dilute its integrity and invalidate all existing BSE/TSE risk assessment models. This is similar to what may have transpired with the CWD material, given the WIDNR (Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources) disposal policy was indeed implemented,” National Renderers’ Association response to USDA and APHIS, June 2005.

Sewage Sludge and Wastewater Reuse: Thousands of tons of sewage sludge (biosolids) are spread on farmland, parks, open spaces, and even lawns and gardens every year. In addition, millions of gallons of sewage water are being reclaimed for various uses.  Spreading sewage sludge and reclaimed sewage water on fields and in our watersheds is another foolish and risky practice. People with CJD (and many with Alzheimer’s disease) excrete prions in their urine, feces, saliva and blood and these recycling practices also are recycling, concentrating and expanding pathological pathways back to humans.

“Prions have been found in the blood and urine of CJD victims,” Gabizon, et al, 2001; Reichl, et al 2002. “Undertakers and medical facilities routinely discharge CJD infected blood and body fluids into public sewers,” Yale, UC Davis, Center for Disease Control.

Other prion-contaminated wastes dumped into sewers include waste from rendering plants (which process remains of up to two million potentially BSE infected downer cows each year), slaughterhouses, morticians, bio-cremation, taxidermists, butcher shops, veterinary clinics, necropsy labs, and hospitals.

Prions are not neutralized by sewage treatment. Therefore, prions become part of the sludge and create pathways to the disease on fields and water runoff. It’s time to quit spreading lies and pathogens on farmland and pastures where livestock graze and where surface water runs off into streams, rivers, lakes and ponds.

Sewage treatment does not inactivate prions. In fact, it concentrates the infectious prions in the sewage sludge being applied on home gardens, cropland, grazing fields and dairy pastures, putting humans, family pets, wildlife and livestock at risk.

“Prions are extremely resistant to inactivation by ultraviolet light, irradiation, boiling, dry heat, formaline, freezing, drying and changes in pH. Methods for inactivating prions in infected tissues or wastes include incineration at very high temperatures and alkaline hydrolysis,” U.S. EPA.

EPA National Water Research Compendium 2009-2014 lists prions eight times as an emerging contaminant of concern in sewage sludge (biosolids), water and manure.

Renowned prion researcher, Joel Pedersen, University of Wisconsin, found that prions become 680 times more infective in certain soils.

Oral transmissibility of prion disease is enhanced by binding to soil particles. Dr. Pedersen and associates found that anaerobic digestion sewage treatment did not inactivate prions in sludge. Persistence of pathogenic prion protein during simulated wastewater treatment processes,

In the July 3, 2010 issue of Veterinary Record, Dr. Pedersen stated, “the disposal of sludge was considered to represent the greatest risk of spreading (prion) infectivity to other premises.”

“Given it is unlikely that the sewage treatment or pellet production processes can effectively deactivate prions, adopting measures to prevent the entry of prions into the sewer system is advisable,” Toronto (Canada) Department of Health, Nov. 2004.

“Pathogen free” is clearly not the case when the Class A sludge compost can contain infectious human and animal prions. Not only are livestock and wildlife at risk from ingesting prion infected soil and sludge, but humans, and particularly children, are especially at risk because their hand to mouth behavior results in the ingestion of dirt,
(Robischon, 1971; LaGoy, 1987; Binder, et al 1986; Gerba, et al 2002; CDC, Callahan, 2004).

Given the volumes of research that clearly point to the risks associated with sewage sludge, how many cattle are being exposed to prions by grazing on land where sewage sludge (biosolids) has been applied? This exposure alone could spawn countless cases of Mad-cow disease around the globe every year. In addition, how many humans have ingested prions directly thanks to this foolish practice? How much water has been contaminated thanks to sewage sludge applications in our watersheds and directly injected into our rivers and oceans?

Sludge proponents claim that there aren’t enough prions in sludge to constitute an infectious dose. “Critics say that one example of outdated assumptions is the Harvard study’s assumption that a cow would have to eat one gram of infected material to come down with the disease. Most scientists now believe a cow would have to eat only 10 milligrams of infected material, a piece the size of a peppercorn, to catch the disease. That’s 100 times smaller than the assumption in the Harvard study. Recent British studies suggest the infectious dose could be 400 micrograms, which is 25 times smaller than 10 milligrams,” said Dr. Michael Hansen.

Above Sources on Sewage Risks Compliments of Helane Shields, Alton, NH.

Additional Documents & Research of Interest

  • “BSE has now been transmitted orally to 16 species,” (S. Dealler, 1995). Animals which have suffered fatal prion diseases include sheep, goats, cattle, pigs, bison, elk, mule and white-tailed deer, oxen, moose, domestic house cats, several species of macaques/monkeys, several species of lemurs, farmed mink, cougars, cheetahs, puma, ocelot, tiger, lion, kudu, oryx, eland, nyala, gemsbok and ankole.
  • Rendered sheep fed to cattle are believed to have initiated the Mad-cow epidemic. Intensive inbreeding of sheep for various genetic characteristics is thought to have spawned prion disease in sheep.
  • Contaminated meat and MBM feed are linked to zoo animal infections. A 1999 report documented three German zoo ostriches, which developed prion disease after eating feed made from downer cattle. An elephant at the Oakland Zoo died of prion disease.
  • Under ordinary circumstances, most sCJD cases go undiagnosed. Few autopsies are done on suspected sCJD victims because the families don’t want to incur the expense. What’s the point if their loved one is already dead? And the pathologist/medical examiner is reluctant to do an autopsy because he/she is concerned about their own risk of infection and the fact that expensive medical instruments may have to be discarded if the case is positive.
  • By binding to a common soil mineral, the misshapen proteins that cause chronic wasting disease in deer can be as much as 700 times more infectious than exposure to the proteins alone, according to researchers at UW-Madison. The finding, by UW-Madison animal health and biomedical science professor Judd Aiken, may help explain why CWD spreads orally among Wisconsin deer even though animals in the wild are exposed to relatively low levels of the infectious proteins, called prions. Herbivores, including deer and sheep, consume a fair amount of dirt each day as they graze. They also are known to consume soil as a source of minerals. Grazing cattle are known to ingest one kilogram of soil per day (2.2 pounds)

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Wild Horse Roundups Don’t Work

Cattle Industry Driving Wild Horses Off Public Lands

Editor’s Note: The United States spends millions of taxpayer dollars every year terrorizing wild horses and burros on public lands in the West. They are stampeded for miles by low-flying helicopters. Those that aren’t killed or disabled in the panic await an equally horrific fate. Hopefully, a new report will help put an end to the waste of money and life.

Domestic terrorism on public lands must stop.

A scathing independent scientific review of wild horse roundups in the West concludes the U.S. government would be better off investing in widespread fertility control of the mustangs and let nature cull any excess herds instead of spending millions to house them in overflowing holding pens.

A 14-member panel assembled by the National Science Academy’s National Research Council, at the request of the Bureau of Land Management, concluded BLM’s removal of nearly 100,000 horses from the Western range over the past decade is probably having the opposite effect of its intention to ease ecological damage and reduce overpopulated herds.

By stepping in prematurely when food and water supplies remain adequate, and with most natural predators long gone, the land management agency is producing artificial conditions that ultimately serve to perpetuate population growth, the committee said Wednesday in a 451-page report recommending more emphasis on the use of contraceptives and other methods of fertility control.

The research panel sympathized with BLM’s struggle to find middle ground between horse advocates and ranchers who see the animals as unwelcome competitors for forage. It noted there’s “little if any public support” for allowing harm to come to either the horses or the rangeland itself.The report says the current method may work in the short term, but results in continually high population growth, exacerbating the long-term problem.The American Wild Horse Preservation Fund, a national coalition of more than 50 advocacy groups, said the report makes a strong case for an immediate halt to the roundups.“This is a turning point for the decades-long fight to protect America’s mustangs,” said Neda DeMayo, president of the coalition’s Return to Freedom. The National Cattlemen’s Beef Association is among the livestock groups that have voiced support in the past for aggressive, increased use of fertility control but remain adamantly opposed to curtailing roundups. Ironically, the trade group has long pretended to be in support of multi-use policies. Horse advocates themselves are not united behind the idea of stepping up use of contraception on the range.

“We are grateful that the National Academy of Science recommends stopping cruel roundups, but we challenge their decision to control alleged overpopulation like a domestic herd with humans deciding who survives and breeds,” said Anne Novak, executive director of Protect Mustangs in San Francisco.

The conflict has raged for decades but has intensified in recent years for cash-strapped federal land managers with skyrocketing bills for food and corrals and no room for incoming animals.“The business as usual practices are not going to be effective without additional resources,” said Guy Palmer, a pathologist from Washington State University who chaired the research committee.

Rep. Raul Grijalva, D-Ariz., said the report should serve as a wakeup call to bring changes he and others in Congress have urged for years.

“These unsustainable practices are a waste of taxpayer money and jeopardize the health and safety of wild horses across the West,” he said.


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Horse Slaughter Back In New Mexico

Land Of Enchantment Will Kill Horses

About five miles from this southeastern New Mexico town’s famed UFO museum, tucked between dairy farms, is a nondescript metal building that could be home to any number of small agricultural businesses.

slaughter horse in U.S.

But Valley Meat Co. is no longer just another agricultural business. It’s a former cattle slaughterhouse whose kill floor has been redesigned for horses to be led in one at a time, secured in a huge metal chute, shot in the head, then processed into meat for shipment overseas.

It’s also ground zero for an emotional, national debate over a return to domestic horse slaughter that has divided horse rescue and animal humane groups, ranchers, politicians and Indian tribes.

And Tuesday, it moved one step closer to becoming the first plant in the country in more than six years to slaughter horses, with a successful inspection by the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

At issue is whether the majestic symbols of Western culture are livestock or pets, and whether it is more humane to slaughter them domestically than to ship tens of thousands of neglected, unwanted and wild horses thousands of miles to be slaughtered in Mexico or Canada.

Front and center in the debate is Rick De Los Santos, who along with his wife, Sarah, has for more than two decades worked this small slaughterhouse, taking in mostly cows that were too old or sick to travel with larger herds to the bigger slaughterhouses for production.

Now, with cattle herds shrinking amid an ongoing drought, De Los Santos says he and his wife are just trying to transform their business and make enough money to retire. They’re seeking to slaughter domestically some of the thousands of horses that De Los Santos says travel through the state every month on their way to what are oftentimes less humane and less regulated plants south of the border.

“They are being slaughtered anyway. We thought, well, we will slaughter them here and provide jobs for the economy,” De Los Santos said.

Instead, Valley Meat has been ensnarled in a yearlong political drama that has left the plant idle and its owners the target of vandalism and death threats – warnings that increased after humane groups found a video a former plant worker posted of himself cursing at animal activists, then shooting one of his own horses to eat.

“People are saying, `We will slit your throat in your sleep. We hope you die. We hope your kids die,'” De Los Santos said. “Sometimes it’s scary. … And it’s all for a horse.”

Indeed, voicemails left on the company’s answering machine spew hate and wishes for violence upon the family.

“I hope you burn in hell,” said one irate woman who called repeatedly, saying, “You better pack your (expletive) bags (expletive) and get out of there because that place is finished.”

The couple have hired security and turned over phone records to federal authorities. They are, nevertheless, surprisingly candid about their plans, offering media access to the 7,200-square-foot slaughterhouse with one kill floor and two processing rooms that De Los Santos says can process 50 to 100 horses a day.

“It’s complicated, this industry of feeding the world,” Sarah De Los Santos says matter-of-factly. The meat would be processed for human consumption and exported to countries in eastern Europe and Asia.

Attorney Blair Dunn says agriculture officials found no issues at Valley Meat Co. during Tuesday’s inspection and told the owners they are recommending a grant of inspection be issued immediately.

The plant passed a similar inspection last year but then was told it couldn’t begin operations until the USDA developed an acceptable test to measure the horse meat for drug residue.

It wasn’t until the plant sued the USDA for blocking its application that the agency earlier this year agreed to move forward with the inspections necessary to allow Valley Meat Co. and about a half-dozen other plants around the country to slaughter horses.

But the Obama administration wants to prohibit such slaughters. The administration’s 2014 budget request excludes money for inspectors for horse slaughter plants, which would effectively keep them from operating.

The USDA did not respond to an email from The Associated Press asking about the inspection process and whether a drug test has been developed.

But Dunn said Department of Justice lawyers repeatedly have assured him that there are no impediments to the plant opening. Dunn says he expects final approval for the plant to come in a matter of days.

Wild horses held by the BLM.

“Everyone is talking about this as a humane issue,” De Los Santos said. “This is not a humane issue. It’s politics.”

Humane groups and politicians including Gov. Susana Martinez and New Mexico Attorney General Gary King strongly oppose the plant. They argue that horses are iconic animals in the West, and that other solutions and more funding for horse rescue and birth control programs should be explored over slaughter.

Fueling opposition is a recent uproar in Europe over horse meat being found in products labeled as beef.

Still others are pushing for a return to domestic slaughter. Proponents include several Native American tribes, the American Quarter Horse Association, some livestock associations and even a few horse rescue groups that believe domestic slaughter would be more humane than shipping the animals elsewhere.

They point to a 2011 report from the U.S. Government Accountability Office that found horse abuse and abandonment increasing since Congress effectively banned horse slaughter by cutting funding for federal inspection programs in 2006. Because rescue groups can’t take care of all of the horses in need, tens of thousands have been shipped to slaughterhouses in Mexico.

In this mostly agricultural town, touted on its welcome sign as the Dairy Capital of the Southwest, there is surprisingly little uproar over the plant.

“I was against it,” said Larry Connolly, a retiree having coffee at Starbucks last week. “Then I started talking to some ranchers. They said they were for it. So I’m neutral.”

Local horse trader and former rancher Dave McIntosh said opening the plant would be the “best thing for the welfare of horses.”

But Sheriff Rob Coon said he believes most people in town oppose the plant. His office was inundated with calls and emails from irate people after the horse-killing video was discovered online last month. The former Valley Meat worker posted the video more than a year ago in response to animal activists opposed to horse slaughter.

“A lot of the ranchers are for it, simply because they want a place to take a horse rather than starve it out,” he said. “But it’s not our society. We don’t eat horses.”

Coon said his department has met with other local agencies in preparation for protests and potential trouble should the plant get the green light to open. But he clearly longs for the day when Roswell – whose main street is populated with statues of green extraterrestrials – was known for a rumored 1947 UFO landing, and little else.

“I was just telling our county manager: `What happened to our aliens?'” Coon said.

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