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Horse killers not hunters

Who doesn’t like horses? Even though this is Alberta, someone hates them — in particular, the wild ones.

That a person or persons is taking killer pot shots at free-roaming wild horses in the high country southwest of Red Deer is slaughter without reason.

It’s the beautiful mountainous wilderness, adjacent foothills and the diverse and magnificent wildlife that inhabit our West Country that makes it such a treasure.

After you’ve lived here long enough, you come to understand that Alberta is not just Banff, Jasper, Hwy 2 and two big cities.

And part of the gold is found not far from Red Deer, where cougars and grizzlies, elk and eagles are the order of the day. And, if you’re lucky enough, you’ll sometimes encounter wild horses, too.

It’s an outdoor paradise we should want to protect and enjoy, but someone — maybe an insider, maybe not — is committing acts of gross indecency against these shy equines.

Anyone who has ever been properly raised in the tradition of hunting knows that shooting wild animals for no reason, and leaving them intact where they died to rot, is no hunter.

That’s as unsportsman-like as it can possibly be, and the thought that there’s a thrill attached to such atrocious lack of respect for living creatures, in fact horses, is sickening and sad.

Some 16 wild horses, maybe more because who really knows for sure, have been shot dead in the foothills west of Sundre over the past two years. No one has yet been charged.

The dead horses have all been found within two km of each other, and most recently involved a mare and her two foals in the Bearberry area near Sundre. These latest horses were found just metres from an oilwell road.

The killing of the three horses became public when a couple who helped found the Wild Horses of Alberta Society, Bob and Doreen Henderson of Olds, became familiar with these particular horses and then on New Year’s Day found them dead.

What else is the killer killing? If it’s the same person and he keeps going back to the same place to kill, eventually he will be caught. Serial behaviour tends to leave a trail.

You do have to wonder if there wasn’t more than one shooter. Maybe three?

All three horses were shot in the head and to pull off three quick shots, killing all three animals possibly in short order, you’d think the first shot would spook the other two animals.

It may be a tough case to solve because the great outdoors is a big place. But maybe someone saw something.

The investigating officer is RCMP Cpl. David Heaslip, a livestock investigator for K Division.

With a little luck, he’ll find the gunman/men, and lay charges. Unfortunately, the maximum fine for killing wild horses in Alberta is $2,000.

But the true penalty for such a person will be seeing his name in print, under a headline such as: “Bonehead kills defenceless wild horses.” He’ll never live it down.

The province does not see the animals as wildlife, even though the estimated 200 horses are wild, because they are descendants of domestic horses that got loose or were left by loggers and miners, about 100 years ago.

The province issues permits to capture the horses, but the demand is low. In the 1960s, about 2,000 of the wild horses were rounded up in the Sundre and Rocky Mountain House areas.

The province ought to simply ban the killing of these horses, and with bigger penalties, make people think twice before they harm them. And they should be considered wildlife.

The wild horse society is a non-profit body that works to protect the animals, which presently fall under the jurisdiction of the Alberta Sustainable Resource Development Department.

The group has about 250 members and first offered $500 for information to help solve the latest kill. But public response has seen the reward grow to $3,500.

It’s not a huge reward, but hopefully enough to put an end to this pointless destruction — an indefensible act by persons unknown — for now.

It would be an insult to us and the world of animals to say these people behave like animals.

They aren’t animals — they’re morons.

Mary-Ann Barr is Advocate assistant city editor. Her column appears Tuesdays and Saturdays. She can be reached by e-mail at barr@reddeeradvocate.com or by phone at 314-4332.

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