TONTO NATIONAL FOREST, AZ (3TV/CBS5) -- A program that prevents wild horses on the Salt River from giving birth is being called a huge success.
The goal is to reduce the number of foals born so the wild horses can all stay in their habitat. The horses only have a limited habitat. They live on 19,000 acres in the Tonto National Forest and cannot outgrow their boundaries.
The heard of wild horses that live along the Salt River are now protected. But part of protecting them, also means managing heard numbers. The group that watches over them are doing that by giving them birth control, delivered via dart.
Here's how it works. Horses are shot with a dart that contains an equine birth control vaccine. One shot keeps the horse from becoming pregnant for an entire year. The non-profit Salt River Wild Horse Management Group (SRWHMG) said the shot does not harm the horse.
"It's really not as invasive as you think. It might be she takes one jump and then she goes right back to doing what she was doing," said the group's president Simone Netherlands.
Without the birth control, there may be too many wild horses. "If you let them overpopulate in nature, then there might not be enough resources, and you get a higher death rate," Netherlands said. "Your other scenario is the government would round them up and separate the families."
Rosy the foal was found alone after the apparent death of her mother, who was known as the oldest mare on the Salt River.
The birth control program doesn't cost the federal government a thing and it actually saves taxpayers money. "We've saved the taxpayer about $2 million that it would have cost the government to round up and remove those horses," Netherlands said. "In 2021, Arizona is really going to set the example of how to treat wild horses humanely without roundups and without removals. It's always better to prevent the birth, than to round up and remove those horses."
In 2019, there were more than 100 foals born. Last year, only 16 foals were born because of the program.
"With preventing 85 births, we actually made sure that these horses earned their right to stay in their habitat," Netherlands said. "We think that we'll have fewer than 10 babies in 2021."