I projected costs for several contraceptive treatments that could be used by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) to manage 4 wild horse (Equus caballus) populations. Potential management alternatives included existing roundup and selective removal methods combined with contraceptives of different duration and effectiveness. I projected costs for a 20-year economic life using the WinEquus?? wild horse population model and state-by-state cost estimates reflecting BLM's operational expenses. Findings revealed that 1) currently available 2-year contraceptives in most situations are capable of reducing variable operating costs by 15%, 2) experimental 3-year contraceptives may be capable of reducing costs by 18%, and 3) combining contraceptives with modest changes to herd sex ratio (e.g., 55-60% M) could trim costs by 30%. Predicted savings can increase when contraception is applied in conjunction with a removal policy that targets horses aged 0-4 years instead of 0-5 years. However, reductions in herd size result in greater variation in annual operating expenses. Because the horse program's variable operating costs make up about half of the total program costs (which include other fixed costs), contraceptive application and management can only reduce total costs by 14%, saving about $6.1 million per year. None of the contraceptive options I examined eliminated the need for long-term holding facilities over the 20-year period simulated, but the number of horses held may be reduced by about 17% with contraceptive treatment. Cost estimates were most sensitive to the oldest age adoptable and per-day holding costs. The BLM will experience significant cost savings as carefully designed contraceptive programs become widespread in the wild horse herds it manages.
Additional publication details
Economic benefit of fertility control in wild horse populations