02/04/2015 04:16 EST | Updated 04/07/2015 05:59 EDT

60 Wild Alberta Horses To Be Rounded Up, Offered For Adoption

Amanda Nand
EDMONTON - The Alberta government has ordered the capture of up to 60 wild horses this month northwest of Calgary.

The RCMP will hire wranglers to round up the feral horses in an area south of the Red Deer River and east of the boundary of Banff National Park, Alberta Environment spokesman Duncan MacDonnell said Wednesday.

"The captured horses will first be offered to the Wild Horses of Alberta Society for adoption," he said. "Then the horses would go to public auction and, if anybody wants one, they can buy one."

MacDonnell said the Mounties are involved because the horses fall under Alberta's Stray Animals Act.

Some people oppose such captures, believing that the horses should be treated as part of Alberta's cowboy heritage.

The province estimates there are about 880 feral horses in the Rocky Mountain foothills area — so many that they are damaging grasslands used for livestock grazing and by wildlife such as elk.

The government contends the horses are not native to Alberta but are descendants of domestic animals used in logging and mining operations in the early 1900s.

It also says the horses have no natural predators, although a few are sometimes killed by wolves or cougars.

Last winter, 15 feral horses were rounded up despite permits that would have allowed up to 200 to be taken.

The Wild Horses of Alberta Society recently built a shelter near Sundre to house captured feral horses.

The society, which signed a five-year agreement with the province in November, has developed a contraceptive vaccine program for mares in an attempt to lower the wild-herd population.

MacDonnell said the government's plan is to carefully manage the size of the herd, which has grown in recent years.

"The capture season is being done to reduce the feral horse population, not to eliminate them altogether."

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