Experts link deadly horse illness to exposure to Colorado wildfire

Colorado’s Bureau of Land Management estimates there are around 2,550 horses at their facility which have been quarantined until further notice.

CAÑON CITY, Colo. - Experts believe they have identified a virus running rampant through a horse facility in central Colorado, killing dozens of animals and forcing thousands into quarantine.

On Thursday, Colorado’s Bureau of Land Management said lab tests identified the illness as equine influenza, which is likely behind the horses’ respiratory issues at its facility in Cañon City, Colorado.

The agency said at least 95 horses have died since Saturday, and over 2,500 have been quarantined.

The BLM reports many of the impacted animals were collected during a round up horses after a massive wildfire in the western part of the state in 2021.

The state says it regularly moves wild horses from areas that could be detrimental to the animals' health to government-run facilities, where they receive proper nutrients and care.

"This tragic outcome was influenced by a population of horses that may have been particularly vulnerable given their time in the West Douglas area and their exposure to last year’s wildfire that prompted their emergency gather," said BLM Colorado Acting Associate State Director Ben Gruber.


In recent months, the lack of precipitation and reduced forage forced the agency to concentrate horse removal efforts on areas impacted by the ongoing drought, to insure natural resources remained sufficient to support animals.

The state’s practice of rounding up horses and sending them to facilities has been controversial for years because of the alleged poor treatment of the animals.

The American Wild Horse Campaign says the latest issue regarding the welfare of the animals caused Tennessee congressman Steve Cohen to propose hearings on the practice.

"Congressman Cohen is a steadfast champion for wild horses and burros, and we are grateful that he is bringing awareness to the over 60,000 wild horses and burros being warehoused in crowded corrals," Holly Gann Bice, Director of Government Relations for AWHC, said in a statement. The situation at Cañon City is evidence of a broken federal system that has resulted in serious animal welfare concerns, and yet the government plans to round up 19,000 more horses this year."


An AWHC spokesperson said removing the wild animals from vast landscapes and putting them into close confinement likely contributed to the outbreak.

"The Bureau of Land Management will review operations at the Canon City facility to prevent future outbreaks like this from occurring," Gruber said.

There have been no reports of the illness impacting private horse farms or other wild animals in the Centennial State.

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