Today, Feathered Quill reviewer Ellen Feld is talking with Carol J. Walker, author of Blue Zeus: Legend of the Red Desert.
FQ: Blue Zeus is your third book about wild horses and their desperate plight. What first drew you to these majestic animals?
WALKER: I have always loved horses since I was a little girl. I started a horse photography business in 2000 and was invited in 2004 to go photograph wild horses, and at the time, I knew nothing about them. I went to Adobe Town, in the Red Desert of Wyoming, a land of buttes and dramatic rock formations, arid plains, sagebrush and found that the wild horses living there were uniquely suited to the high desert, and that they lived in families, with a stallion as the protector, mares, and youngsters. Some of these family members had been together for over a decade. I was enchanted and captivated by their nobility, spirit, and care for each other, and when I found out that most of this herd would be rounded up and removed after I had gotten to know several families, I was devastated, but resolved to do something about it. I wrote my first book Wild Hoofbeats: America’s Vanishing Wild Horses to show that wild horses were not starving to death but thriving where they lived on our public lands, and that they deserved to be allowed to live their lives wild and free.
FQ: Can you describe to readers what your reaction/thoughts/emotions were when you first saw Blue Zeus?
WALKER: I was amazed and overjoyed to see such a magnificent, beautiful stallion. His color, his pride and his bearing made him stand out as a truly unique and amazing wild horse.
FQ: What is it like to be alone with a herd of wild horses, stepping into their private world?
WALKER: It is my favorite thing in the world to spend time with families of wild horses. They can easily run away from me, so when they allow me to settle down and watch and photograph them, I feel that it is a tremendous privilege. They are always aware of me, but if they are relaxed, they will continue with their normal activities, such as grazing, mutual grooming, and nursing, and napping. It is incredibly peaceful being with the horses. There is seldom any sound from the horses, but there might be birdsong or wind. I will stay as long as they are comfortable with me there, and then I leave them with my heart full.
FQ: Are there other special horses that you’ve lost track of through the years or because of BLM roundups that remain in your heart and soul?
WALKER: Cloud was a magnificent wild stallion in the Pryor Mountains of Montana who I spent time with from 2004 until he disappeared in 2015. His personality was so big and his presence was amazing. I am so glad that he lived out his life wild and free. I have not been able to go back to the Pryors since he passed. Another magnificent stallion was Azul, a big blue roan stallion who had the largest family in the Red Desert Complex, 15 horses. He had a colorful family, and two pinto stallions, his sons, who were his lieutenants, helping to keep the family safe and together. He and his family were rounded up by the BLM and he died in the holding facility.
FQ: Please tell our readers about the practice of forced sterilization of mares. Is it permanent or something that needs to be done every year? How does that impact the herds that the mares belong to?
WALKER: Sterilization of mares through spaying is incredibly cruel and dangerous and if they survive leaves them permanently infertile. It is a practice that vets even hesitate to perfom on domestic mares in sterile conditions. The birth control that is preferred is not permanent but needs to be administered every 1 – 2 years – PZP, Porcine Zona Pellucida. The mares can be darted by a person in the field, and it will wear off if not re-administered so that if the population goes below the numbers for genetic viability, the mares can again have foals.
FQ: Reading about the BLM and the government bureaucracy that surrounds the agency was maddening. You’d mentioned the process of adopting wild horses for $1000 and the myriad of people who adopt, and then soon after, dump the horses at a slaughter auction so they can keep the money. I assume the BLM knows about this practice. Do they care at all about what people are doing?
WALKER: The BLM says they are taking steps to change the Adoption Incentive Program but all they changed is that now people get the money at the end of a year instead of $500 after 2 months and the rest after title is obtained after a year. Currently, American Wild Horse Campaign has brought a lawsuit to end this program, and we are waiting to see what the judge will rule.
FQ: Along the same lines, why did the BLM make it so hard for you to try and save Blue Zeus’s family? Do they simply not care? Are they understaffed?
WALKER: Two reasons – the staff that is there now does not care and they are understaffed. The BLM now is making it extremely difficult for anyone to find or adopt horses that they have known in the wild because it is just too much trouble for them. This did not used to be the case.
FQ: It was wonderful to read about Blue Zeus and his family finally being rescued and being able to live out their lives at the Skydog Sanctuary. But how many wild horses can realistically be rescued? I assume there is limited space at the sanctuaries.
WALKER: Yes, there are not enough sanctuaries for all wild horses to go to, and only a very few are lucky enough to be reunited with their families. What needs to happen is that the roundups and removals must stop, and wild horses need to be managed in their homes on our public lands with their families.
FQ: Perhaps the most important question – what can people do to help stop the forced relocation/slaughter of wild horses?
WALKER: The most important thing that people can do is to contact their Representatives and Senators and call for a halt to the roundups, press them to force BLM to come up with a plan to keep wild horses where they belong and use humane methods of birth control only when needed to control the population. Also, donate to the legal funds of organizations like American Wild Horse Campaign that are bringing lawsuits to stop the abuses of the Bureau of Land Management.
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