OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) _ Six wild horses that were sold to an Illinois slaughterhouse were bought by a Meeker man who told officials the animals were going to be used in a church-run program.
The U.S. Bureau of Land Managment is investigating the April 15 sale of the mustangs and the buyer's estimated $2,000 profit.
But even if the man's story was phony, the government has no legal recourse to prevent such slaughters since a 34-year-old law was changed in December, agency spokeswoman Celia Boddington said.
The amendment by Sen. Conrad Burns, R-Mont., directs the agency offer for sale any excess horses that are older than age 10 or were unsuccessfully offered to the public three times under a separate, long-running adoption program.
The amendment repealing the slaughter ban came at the urging of ranchers concerned about overpopulation of the horses and their effect on the range.
Until November, people who bought wild horses at auction were barred from selling them for a year, said Nancy Perry, vice president of government affairs for the Humane Society of the United States.
The new law makes those horses available for immediate resale if they are 10 years old or have been offered for adoption at least three times, Perry said.
The federal government owns about 8,400 horses meeting that description, she said.
The sale is thought to have been the first time horses have been sold immediately for slaughter since the new law took effect, Boddington said.
Boddington wouldn't identify the buyer or the auction location, citing privacy laws. BLM officials said only that they received assurances the horses were going to a good home.
However, animal rights groups said the man lives in Meeker, about 30 miles northeast of Oklahoma City, and bought the horses from the bureau's adoption center in Canon City, Colo.
The man, whose name The Oklahoman couldn't confirm, told auctioneers he represented a church, Perry said.
``When they reminded him that the horses were wild, he said, 'That's OK. I used to be a rodeo clown,''' Perry said.
Calls to the man's house in Meeker went unanswered Friday.
Perry said the man paid $300 for the horses, which she were large and healthy and came from Antelope Hills Management Herd Area in Wyoming.
Such horses normally bring $350 to $450 each at slaughter, Perry said.
The meat likely will go to Europe, where it is considered a delicacy, said Neda DeMayo, founder of Return to Freedom, a wild horse preservation group.
BLM officials became aware of the slaughter after a federal inspector at the slaughterhouse noticed the government brands, Perry said.