RENO -- Wild horses rounded up on federal land in the West and sold to a private owner have been slaughtered for the first time since a new law went into effect, a government official said Thursday.
"This is something we regret and are very disappointed this has happened," said Celia Boddington, a spokeswoman for the U.S. Bureau of Land Management in Washington.
"We make every possible effort when the horses are sold to make sure the animals are placed in good homes for long-term care.
The BLM is investigating this month's sale of six wild horses to an Oklahoma man and their subsequent slaughter at a commercial packing plant in Illinois, Boddington said.
In December, Congress repealed the 34-year-old ban on slaughtering wild horses that run free across the West. The move has brought a backlash from activists who want to reinstate full protection for the mustangs.
Officials for the Humane Society of the United States learned of the slaughter Thursday and protested to the BLM.
"There is no way this current system will work to protect horses," said Nancy Perry, the Humane Society's vice president for government affairs. "Until new legislation passes, our wild horses are going to be in jeopardy."
Perry said a man who identified himself as a minister in Oklahoma told the BLM he intended to use the horses in a program for troubled youth and bought them April 15. The man has not been identified.
The horses were sold for slaughter on April 18 to Cavel International in Illinois, Perry said.
"The BLM says they prescreen the buyers but obviously that isn't working," she said.
The new law, written by Sen. Conrad Burns (R-Mont.), was passed at the urging of ranchers concerned about overpopulation of the horses and their effect on the range.
"Obviously we are required by law to sell these horses," Boddington said. "In the bill of sale there is a statement that says the buyer will provide humane care for the animals. But once the animals are sold, they are private property."
Previously, under the adoption program, buyers had to keep the horses for at least one year before they obtained the ownership title to the animal, Boddington said.
BLM has sold and delivered nearly 1,000 horses since the new law passed. About 950 more have been sold and are awaiting delivery.
© 2005 The Associated Press