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'Senseless, inhumane': Wild horses found shot dead in B.C. were scattered over vast area

Police are investigating after 17 horses were found shot to death west of Kamloops.

Police in B.C. are trying to determine who shot and killed 17 wild horses weeks ago. 

A group of people were off-roading in side-by-sides near Walhachin, west of Kamloops, when they made the gruesome and disturbing discovery.

"It’s just a really senseless kind of incident that has happened here and there is no need for it. It’s very inhumane,” says Cpl. Cory Lepine, with the RCMP Livestock Section.

A veterinarian, police and the RCMP’s forensic identification section were called to the scene on Sunday. It's believed the animals were killed earlier.

“It potentially occurred within the last two to three weeks,” says Lepine. 

Not only were the horses found shot dead, but they also were not grouped together and were spread out over a vast area. It did not occur in one day, it appears the animals have been there for some time,” he tells Glacier Media.

Police are hoping people who have trail cams might have captured what occurred.

"The area where this was done was quite up high off the road; there is nothing around this area. It’s quite a remote area and it is not easily accessible," he says. 

Feral horses are known to call the area of Walhachin home and travel in a large group.

"Although they are feral horses, nobody owns them, they do travel the range on their own. There’s quite a large group: we estimate about between 100 and 150 that travel over that area.” 

The people who first spotted the dead horses called the local Skeetchestn Indian Band, who then called the Tk’emlups Rural RCMP.

Lepine said the herd of wild horses is “of cultural significance” to the Skeetchestn.

Glacier Media reached out to the Skeetchestn Indian Band to discuss the cultural significance of the horses, who previously said they would not comment sent out a statement on Wednesday evening. 

Chief Darrel Draney says he is saddened by the discovery. 

"As a community, Skeetchestn holds these animals in high regard and enjoys sharing the land with these creatures, and are dedicated to finding out what has happened to them," he says.

Draney says the search for the culprits who are responsible for the 'heinous crime' is still underway. 

Police are hoping someone in the public has heard something or saw what happened so they can identify a suspect. Police are not releasing images of the dead horses, saying the photos are part of the investigation. 

"Although they don’t belong to anyone, it is quite inhumane how this situation unfolded and therefore we want to make sure we are able to locate and deal with the people responsible for it,” says Lepine. 

Lepine adds there have been issues with feral horses across the province. 

“A lot of different areas throughout the province have feral horse issues and people (who) feel that they encroach on their private property or affect their grassing areas, might have an issue with them. This is not the way to deal with it."

But when asked why someone would do this, he says it’s not clear.

"I am at a loss for that. I really… don’t understand,” he says. “It’s very disturbing.”

Anyone with information or footage can contact police at 250-299-7462.

Punishment for animal cruelty

BC SPCA has learned of the shootings and confirms the RCMP are the ones investigating. 

"This RCMP case is very disturbing and heartbreaking,” says Eileen Drever, senior officer of protection and stakeholder relations.

Under Section 445.1 of the Criminal Code, injuring or endangering other animals is an indictable offence. 

"Individuals are liable to imprisonment for a term of not more than two years,” says Drever. 

If convicted of a summary charge, individuals are liable to a fine not exceeding $5,000 or to imprisonment for a term of not more than six months or both. 

First Nations’ deep relationship with horses

Elder Eva Chatelaine has fond memories of growing up with horses and says they’re important to culture and history.

Chatelaine, of Horse Lake First Nation in northwestern Alberta, says horses were the main means of travel years ago, before there were roads.

“My dad used horses for wagons,” she says. “You can cross a new river with a horse with your family and especially little ones.”

Her mother would dye the horse hair to make flower designs in moccasins or in mukluks.

“Horse hair is very important,” she says. “In some of the regalia of First Nations people, they use horse hair and they use eagle feathers.”

She describes how horses are a powerful spirit animal.

“If you are feeling down, or you want to bring yourself back up, you ride the horse or talk to the horse,” she says.

When someone dies, horses are released into the wild.

“There are wild horses, but they weren’t wild to begin with. They were the old people’s horses. And one day, old people passed away, the horses just became on their own, in the mountains and in the foothills.”

Chatelaine tells Glacier Media the horse deaths near Kamloops are not right.

“Those horses were alive. It’s just like… is it alright to go kill all your horses in your yard? It’s the same thing. They were somebody’s horses,” she says.

Brianne Hingley works as an equine teacher and teaches a variety of courses to the community of Baytree, Alta., 20 kilometres east of Dawson Creek.

She’s owned horses for about eight years and offers addictions programs and youth-in-care programs with horses.

She called the recent horse deaths a tragedy.

“These creatures were killed pointlessly. I would say it is appropriate to note that this action solved nothing, and is wrong,” she says. "It’s a shame that such incredible animals can be disposed of like garbage.”

Editor’s Note: Quotes previously attributed to Cpl. James Grandy have been updated to reflect that they were from Cpl. Cory Lepine.