A rescue operation is underway to save dozens of starving horses struggling in deep snow on a reserve in the central Interior of B.C.
Band member Laird Archie told CBC News he found 19 of the animals dead in the snow on the Canim Lake Indian Reserve east of 100 Mile House, while about 30 others have survived the brutal winter but are trying desperately to find food.
"They're pawing out there in four feet of snow, and they're just skeletons and they're hardly moving," he said Tuesday. "They're just skin and bones, their ribcages, you can count that, their hip bones are sticking out."
A handful of the horses were removed from the reserve on Tuesday, but Archie said the snow and icy terrain are making it difficult to reach the other animals.
"I've got a hold of the SPCA, veterinarians and the RCMP, and we're going to try and get them rounded up and moved out, but that's going to be hard because you can't round them up, you have to bring the trailer to them, so I'm going to have to try and plow roads out to them," he said.
Kent Kokoska, a special provincial constable with the BCSPCA in Kamloops, said the plan is have a veterinarian check the horses and remove some in the worst condition.
"I made arrangements to move four horses from the area and that will be occurring this morning," said Kokoska on Wednesday.
Some horses abandoned, some wild
It is still not clear who is responsible for the animals. Many of the horses are owned by band members, who have simply left the animals to fend for themselves, Archie said.
"In the summer they look good to them, and in the winter nobody pays attention to them," he said.
But band Chief Mike Archie, who is Laird's cousin, said some of the horses are wild, while others were corralled in pens in the fall, but were let out for the winter.
Mike Archie said it's not unusual to let the horses run free in the winter, but they are usually given hay.
He owns two of them himself, but wouldn't say what condition they are in. But the chief did say the band acted as soon as it was told the horses were in trouble.
"We've got feed out on the horses, we've got a veterinarian coming in and they're looking at the state and the health of the horses that are here," he said.
Kokoska said the BCSPCA is still in the initial stages of the investigation
"We are determining if there's individual animal owners. Some of the horses may be feral. We are continuing our investigation," he said.
Last December, two horses found abandoned in the snow on a mountainside near McBride in central B.C. were rescued after volunteers spent a week digging a kilometre-long trench through the snow.
The BCSPCA later recommended charges of animal cruelty against the Edmonton man who owned the horses.