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'Highly contagious' disease kills 85 horses at Colorado facility

85 wild horses have died since Saturday at a BLM facility in Cañon City.

CAÑON CITY, Colo. — An "unknown yet highly contagious and sometimes fatal disease" has killed dozens of horses at a wild horse facility in Cañon City.

The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) said 85 wild horses have died since the outbreak began Saturday.

The wild horse facility in Cañon City, about 115 miles south of Denver, has been voluntarily quarantined while local, state and federal officials determine the exact cause of death of the horses.

“It’s upsetting to BLM and to employees," said BLM spokesperson Steven Hall. "It’s taking a great toll on them. This isn’t where anybody wants to be in terms of managing wild horses.”

Carol Walker, a wild horse advocate, was concerned to hear about the deaths of dozens of horses. She adopted a young horse named Helios from the facility last fall.

"I know and care about those horses, and I don’t want to see them die," Walker said."

Walker cares for three wild horses on her property in Longmont. She adopted them after they were removed during wild horse roundups like the one the BLM conducted last fall in the Sand Wash Basin.

“[Wild horses] shouldn’t be pushed off of our public lands because of ranching interests," Walker said. "They should be allowed to live out their lives wild and free.”

Hall acknowledged there will always be debate and discussion about gathering and removing wild horses from public lands.

"I think right now our focus is in trying to determine what is going on with the horses in Canon City, find a way to prevent it from happening again and do what we can to keep as many horses healthy as we can," Hall said.

Hall told 9NEWS that a private veterinarian, federal veterinarian and experts from Colorado State University and the University of California, Davis were helping investigate and manage the outbreak at the Cañon City facility. 

“We definitely can understand the disappointment, the sadness and in some cases the anger from people out there over having an outbreak like this at a wild horse facility," Hall said.

The Cañon City wild horse facility is designed to hold 2,950 wild horses, Hall said. There are currently 2,550 horses at the facility. 

“Most of the horses in the facility are horses that were gathered in Colorado, and the horses that are being most directly affected by this outbreak are from an area called West Douglas, and they were part of a gather last fall," Hall said.

Horses at the facility have been separated based on their symptoms.

“We’re doing everything that we can from a veterinary standpoint," Hall said. [We're doing] what we can to isolate the horses and we’ve voluntarily quarantined the entire facility.”

RELATED: US plans to remove 19,000 horses from federal land this year, more than ever before

RELATED: Historic Sand Wash Basin wild horse gather ends with questions and concerns

RELATED: Capture of more than 700 wild horses has emotions running high in northwest Colorado

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