Smuggled Horses Found in West Texas Infected with EP
U.S. Border Patrol agents recently seized 10 adult horses and four yearlings as smugglers attempted to enter Texas illegally with the horses by walking across the Rio Grande River near Indian Hot Springs with them, in southern Hudspeth county, located south of El Paso. The animals were turned over to the USDA Animal Plant Health Inspection Service, Veterinary Service (USDA/APHIS/VS) officials, who tested the horses in Presidio, Texas, for a number of disease conditions considered foreign to the United States.
All 10 of the adult animals tested positive for equine piroplasmosis (EP), which is routinely found in Mexico and numerous other countries around the world, but is not considered to be endemic to the United States. The blood-borne protozoal disease can be fatal to horses and could create major constraints to interstate and international movements if left undetected. Equine piroplasmosis does not affect humans.
According to Grant Wease, DVM, field veterinarian for USDA/APHIS/VS in El Paso, the illegal movement of animals is an ongoing concern in the vast open spaces of West Texas. “In some places the Rio Grande poses no barrier at all to foot traffic for man or animal,” he said.
According to the latest USDA information, Wease indicated that “In 2011, approximately 280 head of cattle and 160 head of equids (primarily horses) were intercepted by USDA officials along the Rio Grande.” To further complicate the situation, many of the normal import process for livestock entering Texas have been impacted by border violence, making the attempt to smuggle animals into the state even more tempting.
The investigation by USDA and Texas Animal Health Commission (TAHC) is ongoing to determine not only the source of the horses, but the possible destination as well. The TAHC recently passed EP rules requiring testing of race horses prior to entry into a Texas track, and numerous other states have done the same because of recent cases found in that population of horses.
“Racing Quarter horses with some connection to Mexico appear to be at highest risk of testing positive to the emerging disease,” according to Dee Ellis, DVM, MPA, state veterinarian and TAHC executive director. Although the interdicted horses were described as Thoroughbreds, they were considered to be more likely breeding type animals rather than race ready horses. Ellis said, “This situation highlights the ongoing border security problems Texas is facing, which leads to an increased risk of disease introduction for the Texas livestock population when animals enter our state illegally. I encourage all citizens that witness unusual activity regarding livestock movement near the Mexican border to contact their local law enforcement or animal health officials as quickly as possible to report the situation.”
The TAHC strives to provide quality customer service to the citizens of Texas and works with its USDA partners daily to protect Texas livestock and poultry from foreign animal diseases. With limited state and federal resources however, the two agencies must continually review ongoing surveillance efforts along the border to ensure their actions are as effective as possible.