Researcher calls for more wild horse protections after 17 shot dead in rural B.C.

KAMLOOPS, B.C. — A biologist and wild horse researcher is calling for stronger federal and provincial protections for the animals after 17 carcasses were found in rural British Columbia.

Wayne McCrory, who has been studying horses in the province for about two decades, said he was shocked to learn the animals had been shot to death.

Wild horses are an important part of Canadian heritage, First Nation culture and the ecosystem, and need legislation to protect them, he said in an interview on Wednesday.

"It's time to ramp up protection, both federal and provincial, in my opinion, to stop this senseless slaughter when some trigger-happy person just decides to take the law into his own hands," McCrory said. "In Canada, whether it's a species at risk, wild horses or old-growth (trees), it just takes a lot of political will on the Canadian public to see that happen."

RCMP Cpl. Cory Lepine, who is the sole such livestock investigator in the province, said in an interview that he believes the bodies of the horses had been there for about two weeks, based on how heavily scavenged the bodies were by the time officers arrived.

The animals were found about 65 kilometres west of Kamloops, near Walhachin, B.C., on Friday.

Lepine said they were located various distances apart in two groups, one with six and the other with 11. He said the motive has not yet been confirmed.

"This is pretty senseless, as far as I'm concerned," he said Wednesday. "I don't see a real reason for it."

He said he is not yet sure what charges the individual would face if caught, but animal cruelty would likely be the main allegation.

The Mounties are asking anyone with information to come forward.

The RCMP said in a news release Tuesday that the horses were found on Crown land, noting the horses are of cultural significance to the local Skeetchestn Band.

"The Skeetchestn range is adjacent to this Crown range (where the animals were found) and I think the horses kind of go back and forth, so the community is used to having them there," Lepine said.

He noted the herd of wild horses is "well known" in the area and is estimated to include a total of about 250 animals.

The Skeetchestn Indian Band said in a news release Wednesday that its chief and council were "saddened" by the discovery.

"As a community, Skeetchestn holds these animals in high regard and enjoys sharing the land with these creatures, and are dedicated to finding out what has happened to them," it said.

The First Nation said it is co-operating with the RCMP to help investigators find those responsible for what they call a "heinous crime."

— By Brieanna Charlebois in Vancouver

This report by The Canadian Press was first published March 15, 2023.

The Canadian Press