01/27/2014 06:08 EST | Updated 01/28/2014 03:59 EST

Alberta Wild Horse 'Cull' Strikes A Nerve With Animal Rights Groups


They've been roaming the fields and foothills of southern Alberta for hundreds of years, but the government is once again looking to rein in the province's feral horses.

Last week the Environment and Sustainable Resource Development (ESRD) Ministry declared the launch of a program designed to capture up to 200 wild horses in the foothills north and northwest of Calgary.

According to the Toronto Star, once a licence has been purchased for $200, holders will be able to trap horses within a 2.2 million hectare boundary.

However, animal rights groups are crying foul, and one petition with close to 10,000 signatures calls on the federal and Alberta governments to:

"Protect our wild horses by creating cohesive legislation under which all our wild horses will be protected and granted the freedom to roam our public Lands, which is as much theirs as it is ours. Stop the cull and review this out of date management strategy. Support independent environmental and biological studies and work towards cohesive national wild horse legislation."

According to Nikki Booth, a spokesperson for the ministry, the fate of a captured horse is up to whoever caught it.

Some people sell them to slaughter, but a lot of people will use the horses for recreational use or personal use on their farms,” she told the Calgary Sun.

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She added the horses do not have any natural predators, which allows the population to grow quickly, estimating about 940 wild horses live in the area from Kananaskis to Nordegg.

Bob Henderson, president of the Wild Horses of Alberta Society (WHOAS,) told the Toronto Star his group tried to stop the province from launching the program this year, adding the expense to keep a horse is often too great for those who capture them and the horses almost always end up at the slaughterhouse.

“A lot of them aren’t going to make it, we’ve already found the remains of a few out there,” he said.

He also told the Calgary Sun this year's harsh winter season has naturally helped with population control, adding there's no need for a capture in 2014.

Carrie Sancartier, a spokesperson for ESRD, told the Toronto Star the capture is essential every few years because large numbers of horses mean more animals on the area's highways, as well as a deterioration of and competition for wild grass, which deer and elk also eat.

The 2011-2012 season was the last year the Alberta government approved a wild horse round-up, and according to the National Post 220 licences were sold.