Saving The Onaqui pt 2

The photo you see above is of a brand new baby only minutes old born to Onaqui mare OQ354bM who travels in a band with the band stallion Dude (a gorgeous and muscular bay roan).  I was lucky enough to watch this mare in labor while the other mares gathered around in a tight circle gently cleaning her, sniffing her nose and putting their hooves on her in an attempt to comfort her.  As soon as the little colt was born all of the “aunties” joined in to help clean him and protect him while he came to take his first look at his new little mustang life in the West Desert.  He has been nicknamed Quinn (OQ372brS) and the hope is that he will live a long life wild and free on this range.

Elephants & Horses

As a little kid I was all about elephants.  I don’t even have a reasonable explanation of how or why this might have developed, but I adopted them whole heartedly as my very own spirit animal.  As an adult my fascination with them continued to grow until I made the leap and decided I simply had to see them in person. 

I then spent a few years diving into all things elephant.  Asian elephants and African elephants both.  If there’s a book or scientific study on them I’ve probably read it and I spent time intermittently in Thailand volunteering at various very hands on elephant sanctuaries which put us to work preparing their meals, bathing them, cleaning their sleep areas, creating enrichment activities and planting new crops so the sanctuaries could be closer to their goal of being self-sustaining.  After Thailand I then traveled to an award winning private game reserve in South Africa dedicated to conservation and education where we got to be with the wild herd and collect data in an ongoing study about their foraging habits. 

Fortunately for the elephants their plight has become well-known and the damage to the overall health and continuity of the herd well-documented in cases of poaching, relocating or loss of family members.  Their social structure, familial bonds and intelligence is something I believe we’ve only touched the surface to understanding and yet already we have been able to prove how deep it runs.

The Onaqui wild horses remind me of elephants. Except that unlike the wild elephants the true depth of the dimensions of wild horse herd dynamics, bonds and social complexity hasn’t been given even a small fraction of publicity or research it probably deserves. 

When the wild herds managed by the BLM are done so by way of helicopter roundups instead of humane fertility control methods such as PZP it is not only traumatizing for the horses psychologically, but it’s ripping apart family bands, compromising genetic diversity and throwing the natural balance of the herd off-kilter. The same as it would if you randomly rounded up mass quantities of elephants in the same manner. 

The BLM’s Onaqui round-up is scheduled for July 12-22nd of this year and with it the continuity of the herd’s current structure and dynamics are at grave risk of being destroyed. 

The round-up also brings an immediate loss of opportunity for broad educational and local economic development as it relates to this special population of horses

Healthy Herd Populations = Healthy Local Economy

The closest small rural town to the Onaqui HMA is called Tooele with a local population of 35,000.  Tooele has your basics such as 2 grocery stores, gas stations, Walmart, Home Depot and a splash of restaurants offering various cuisines but by no means is it a thriving metropolis with the charm or attractions to draw visitors from worldwide locations.  However what is does offer is easy access to view the Onaqui – and year round at that.

Another great thing about the little town of Tooele is that it’s an easy 30 minute drive from the Salt Lake City International Airport.  Thus offering unparalleled access for wild horse viewing to anyone flying into Salt Lake City whether it be to hit the slopes in Park City or Alta or to drive up to Yellowstone National Park and the Grand Tetons.  The Onaqui horses are thriving within the vast HMA (herd management area) within a bowl of different mountain ranges lending to gorgeous scenery, camping and hiking. Since Tooele is the stopping off point before heading out to the west desert the economic impact of the Onaqui herd for the town is significant.

Visitors all year long come to Tooele to fill up their gas tanks, grab meals at the local restaurants and grocery stores and most often book a room at one of the four hotels such as the Best Western or Holiday Inn.  The Best Western in fact sees so many visitors for wild horse viewing that they offer a discounted rate per night of stay if you’re here for that reason.

The Utah BLM is proposing removal of 400 Onaqui horses from the range due to what they claim is water shortage, food shortage and overall condition of the herd.  Meanwhile anyone driving through the this range passes countless domestic cattle and sheep grazing and watering on the same land that BLM claims does not have enough food to support the resident wildlife – including horses. 

It’s indisputable that cattle and sheep need to eat too and ranching is a long embedded way of life for many, but it’s definitely not contributing to the local tourist economy the way that the wild horses are able to do.  I don’t see many folks willing to plan a family vacation or travel out of state to Tooele so they can spend the day viewing and photographing domestic livestock in the Onaqui HMA.

These horses are so popular than in only 18 days since the announcement of the removal of 80% of the horses I’ve received communication from supporters in 9 different countries and countless states within the US asking what they can do to help. 

This herd is special. 

And this herd is loved. 

And this herd is very important to our small local towns and the Utah economy. This herd is also very behaviorally unique compared to other wild horse herds and if given the chance can give us very valuable insight and scientific data into the natural lives and bonds of wild horses.

PZP and Its Use in the Onaqui Herd

Everyone who loves these horses I feel confident will be the first to stand up and advocate for their health, well-being and safety.  Running them for 10 days straight by helicopter is not the way to accomplish any of these things but administering equine contraception such as PZP darts allows for successful management of the overall population count and also keeps the family and social structures intact.  BLM has emphatically stated that there is no budgetary issue when it comes to paying the cost of $30/injection/year for mares and there are currently 24 trained but unpaid volunteers which administer the darts so paying for the man hours isn’t an issue for them either.

BLM lists the current population on the range not including 2021 foals to be 475.  In 2019 241 horses were rounded up via helicopter and 2 were killed in the process.  With that in mind, these are the numbers of PZP administered:

2017 – 27 north mares, 15 south mares.  42 Total

2018 – 29 north mares, 24 south mares.  53 Total

2019 – 91 north mares, 44 south mares.  135 Total

2020 – 80 north mares, 46 south mares. 126 Total

Based on these numbers it is not realistic to expect that the benefit of the PZP injections would truly be realized at such an early date.  PZP has been found to be 95-98% effective except for in horses that are non-responders of which do occur but in a very small percentage of darted mares.  The Onaqui herd needs to be managed humanely and via methods such as PZP rather than simply removed for convenience and housed in pens which end up costing taxpayers millions of dollars over the life of a horse.

PZP is extremely cost effective.  It’s easy to administer.  There are currently 24 trained individuals who volunteer their time to dart the herd therefore saving BLM both time and money.  This herd is of huge benefit to the local economy and draws visitors from both out of state as well as out of the country.  Their tolerance for human interaction and ease of access makes them as asset to the state and locals not a burden and they should be spared from the inhumane roundup and instead be allowed to serve as ambassadors for the state and a historic relic of the old Wild West.

More specific information about PZP and herd management can be found in my previous blog by clicking here.

What Can You Do To Help

It’s imperative that the Utah elected officials recognize the local significance of the upcoming BLM actions regarding rounding up this valuable and cherished herd of horses.  Humane herd management and population control should be recommended, supported and commended and there are far better ways to manage the Onaqui horses than to remove them entirely. 

PLEASE take a moment to send a note to the following to stress the importance for the local business people, visitors and the Utah tourist industry of promoting, embracing and humanely managing this unique herd in the wild.

As always as more information becomes available I will try to share in a third blog to help get the word out to save our wild ones.

  1. Please contact the following and express your support at keeping the Onaqui herd healthy and wild while ensuring that they are humanely managed on the HMA.
  1. Utah Senator Romney (202) 224-5251 or via email:
    1. Tooele City Mayor Debbie Winn (435) 843-2104
    2. Tooele City Council Members:
  1. Justin Brady –
    1. Melodi Gochis –
    2. Tony Graf –
    3. Ed Hansen –
    4. Maresa Manzione –
  • Contact President Biden and Interior Secretary Haaland to put a stop to the proposed 20,000 horses and burros slated to be removed from public lands. It’s a huge loss of our national heritage as well as an excessive drain on taxpayer resources and money to make wild horses live their lives in government pens.
  • Contact Gus Warr and Tami Howell at the Salt Lake City BLM who currently manage our Wild Horse & Burro program

Gus Warr –(801) 539-4057  email

Tami Howell – (801) 977-4300  email

  • Follow Facebook pages such as Save the Onaqui Wild Horses for updates and news bulletins

5 Comments on “Saving The Onaqui pt 2

  1. Great blog, Jen. Pertinent facts combined with your obvious passion for the Onaquis and your deep understanding of their biology and ecology. I especially appreciate your take on the economic benefits the Onaquis bestow on local economies. Keep up the great work!


  2. Great information. Utah does have a treasure with these horses, and they need to see that. Like you said, people travel from all over to visit the Onaqui, they should be treated like the treasure they are.


  3. Pingback: Saving The Onaqui Pt. 3 | Wild Horse Photo Safaris

  4. Pingback: Saving The Onaqui Pt 8 | Wild Horse Photo Safaris

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