RENO, Nev. -- Although a new law lets the federal government sell certain wild mustangs for horsemeat, the first ones auctioned off have been spared from the slaughterhouse.
The 200 animals from Nevada that Wild Horses Wyoming bought from the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) are roaming free on thousands of acres near Laramie, Wyo.
"We are in the business of saving horses," said Sean Mater, one of five partners in the company.
In December, Congress replaced a 34-year-old ban on slaughtering any mustang with a statute that allows the sale of older and unwanted horses for their meat. The animals up for sale are captured during periodic government roundups aimed at reducing the wild population.
About 37,000 wild horses and burros roam the Western range, about 9,000 more than the BLM has said the range can sustain.
BLM and Interior Department officials have said they hope to find homes for horses affected by the law. But wild horse advocates fear the animals will end up as horsemeat for human consumption overseas or as dog food.
Wild Horses Wyoming and rescue groups are trying to save the horses by buying them. The Wyoming group purchased the mustangs recently put up for auction, all of them mares, for $50 each.
Mater said his group hopes to secure more land and eventually acquire as many as 5,000 horses. The group is soliciting money for its efforts by selling horse sponsorships.
"Putting them on good rangeland allows them to forage for themselves, and remain in that same mode that they were in out on the range," Mater said.
The Black Hills Wild Horse Sanctuary in Hot Springs, S.D., cares for 400 horses but has no immediate plans to take in more, office manager Pati Duff said.
"We need our resources for the ones we've already got," Duff said.