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Preliminary Proof of the Concept of Wild (Feral) Horses Following Light Aircraft into a Trap

University of Pennsylvania School of Veterinary Medicine New Bolton Center, 382 W Street Road, Kennett Square, Pennsylvania, PA 19382, USA
Author to whom correspondence should be addressed.
Animals 2020, 10(1), 80;
Received: 8 December 2019 / Revised: 20 December 2019 / Accepted: 31 December 2019 / Published: 2 January 2020
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Horse Welfare)
Our long-term goal is to develop less stressful ways of gathering and handling wild horses for necessary capture, either for permanent removal from the range or for repeated application of fertility control treatments. This report describes preliminary evaluation of the concept of leading wild horses into a corral using light aircraft as a less stressful, less expensive, and safer alternative to the current most common practice of driving horses with helicopters into traps. In a model herd of semi-feral managed ponies, an entire herd was successfully led by a remotely operated quadcopter drone into simulated capture enclosures.
Feral horses, wherever managed, typically require population control involving capture for permanent removal or repeatedly for fertility control treatments. The most common method for capturing feral horses is helicopter chasing into traps. With this fear-based strategy, it is difficult to safely capture entire groups. Recapture becomes increasingly difficult, with greater safety risks for pilots and ground staff. As preliminary proof of the concept of capturing free-roaming horses by leading into enclosures with light aircraft rather than driving with helicopters, a consumer-grade quadcopter drone was used to lead a herd of 123 semi-feral ponies into simulated traps. The technique was successful on the first attempt as well as for seven of nine additional attempts over a period of 4 weeks, repeatedly to the same as well as to different destinations. The pace of following was primarily a fast walk, with occasional slow trot. Family integrity was maintained. This work demonstrates preliminary proof of the concept of repeated capture of horses by leading with aircraft rather than chasing. If successfully demonstrated in more extensive rangeland conditions, this method may eventually provide a lower-stress, more repeatable option of capturing feral horses, with implications for improved animal and human safety and welfare. View Full-Text
Keywords: Equus caballus; drone; unmanned aerial vehicle; gather; muster; capture; trap; low-stress handling Equus caballus; drone; unmanned aerial vehicle; gather; muster; capture; trap; low-stress handling
MDPI and ACS Style

McDonnell, S.; Torcivia, C. Preliminary Proof of the Concept of Wild (Feral) Horses Following Light Aircraft into a Trap. Animals 2020, 10, 80.

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