CARSON CITY, Nev. — Twelve wild horses have now died in a Nevada roundup directed by the U.S. Bureau of Land Management, half of them colts and mares.
The BLM on its website today said four more animals died or were put down because of dehydration or water intoxication.
A federal judge has scheduled an emergency hearing on a temporary restraining order sought by animal rights advocates to halt the roundup in northern Elko County.
U.S. District Judge Larry Hicks will hear arguments Thursday in Reno.
The BLM suspended the gather over the weekend when seven horses died of dehydration and water intoxication after being herded by helicopter on the first day of the roundup. Another horse broke a leg and was put down.
Two more animals died Monday and two others were euthanized “because of complications related to water starvation and water intoxication,” the agency said.
Horse protection groups have voiced outrage, saying the deaths were predictable, given sweltering summer temperatures and the weakened state of colts and mares that recently gave or were about to give birth.
Heather Emmons, a BLM spokeswoman in Reno, said that the mustangs otherwise looked healthy and that dehydration is difficult to detect. Water intoxication that can cause colic and brain swelling occurs when dehydrated animals drink excessive quantities of water.
The BLM said the animals on Tuesday were being given food, water and veterinary care in temporary corrals. “The health of the animals appears to be stabilizing,” it said.
Of the horses that died of dehydration, three were mares, three were colts, and five were studs. The animal put down for a broken leg was a mare.
A Justice Department lawyer, in a telephone conference with the judge on Tuesday, said the roundup could resume as early as Sunday.
In the Reno lawsuit, Laura Leigh, a writer, artist and coordinator for The Cloud Foundation, a Colorado-based wild horse group, argued the BLM violated its own policy not to conduct helicopter roundups until at least six weeks after peak foaling season ends.
Mustang advocates contend that would mean after mid-August, but the BLM maintains the restriction ended June 30.
Leigh also argues that the BLM’s temporary closure of more than 42 square miles while the gather takes place amounts to prior restraint of free speech and censoring of the press, preventing her from observing the roundup in a watchdog role.
The BLM had said it intends to remove up to 1,200 horses from the area, and make them available for adoption or send them to long-term holding facilities in the Midwest.
Horse protection groups were unable to block the removal of nearly 2,000 horses from the Calico mountains north of Reno earlier this year.
The BLM says the roundups are necessary because the wild horse population is growing so rapidly that the animals are running out of food and damaging the range.
The animals are federally protected under the 1971 Wild Horse and Burro Act.
Bureau managers estimate that roughly 38,000 mustangs and burros roam 10 Western states, and half are in Nevada. The agency is in the process of removing about 12,000 animals to bring their numbers down to what it considers an appropriate management level.