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E-Quine Auctions

By Lily Whiteman

About a year ago, Mary Terry -- a full-time professional and mother of four -- casually surfed into an on-line auction of wild horses and burros run by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM). But no sooner had she clicked onto photographs of a forlorn but irresistible burro than she joined the action. After fulfilling BLM’s screening requirements, Terry bid on the burro...Then another...And then another. Within weeks, Terry and her husband brought all three burros back to their New Hampshire home. Within months, four BLM horses followed. Terry now gushes over her seven adoptees as her "best friends".

How did a visit to a web site suddenly transform Terry into an angel of mercy for homeless horses and burros? "Seeing those faces..." explains Terry. "I felt sorry for the ones no one else had bid on. I adopted Humphrey, a 22 year-old horse. Who else in their right mind would have wanted him?"

Why Adopt?

Other adopters take home BLM’s wild horses and burros for riding, jumping, pulling carriages or working. Karen Malloy, BLM’s coordinator of Internet adoptions of wild horses and burros describes these animals as "diamonds in the rough". "Once gentled, they can do anything domestic animals can do," she adds. Even then elderly Humphrey was not too old to change into a calm pet. And with an average auction price of about $200, BLM horses and burros are usually much cheaper than commercially available animals.

Protecting the Wild, Wild West

Every year, about 7,500 wild horses and burros are removed from their home on the range, and placed in new homes by BLM. Without such measures, these species, which have no natural predators and are protected by law, could double their numbers in as little as five years. The resulting over grazing would wreak ecological havoc on public lands.

But even with BLM management, public lands harbor about 46,000 wild horses and burros, "about 20,000 more than should be there," according to Malloy. BLM has not kept pace with the excess because the Agency "only removes as many animals as the market can now absorb," explains Malloy. BLM, however, believes that demand for these animals would increase if more people knew about their availability. That’s why the Agency is reaching out to potential adopters via Internet and satellite TV downlink auctions.

Internet Auctions

Described by Business Wire as "a first for a sophisticated, interactive government web site," BLM’s new adoption web site regularly hosts Internet auctions of wild horses and burros. Several weeks before each e-quine auction, the web site posts a gallery of photos and descriptive information about approximately 40 animals. Electronic bids on these animals are then accepted during a two week long period that follows. The highest bid for each horse and burro is posted in real time on the adoption web site.

Like many other Internet adopters, Terry confirms that without the BLM’s new adoption web site, she "just wouldn’t have had enough information or interest to pursue the adoptions." But the value of the web site extends far beyond the almost 100 adoptions it has generated in 5 Internet adoptions held since the site’s May 1998 debut. Attracting over 230,000 visitors so far, the site also fans interest in live auctions that are regularly held at BLM’s permanent holding facilities.

Satellite TV Downlink Auctions

BLM is also expanding its search for homes for wild horses and burros through nationally televised satellite downlink auctions. Held in August 1999, the first of these auctions was preceded by postings of photos and descriptions of available animals on BLM’s wild horse and burro web site. During the auction that followed, pre-taped footage of horses and burros located in Nevada was fed, along with live footage of an auctioneer located in Texas, to homes and other locations equipped with satellite dishes.

"The satellite feeds really show how wild the animals are, and how they move -- whether they trot smoothly, whether they rear and buck," observes Melanie Jackson, who adopted a horse during the auction. A total of 87 pairs, geldings and studs were placed to auction participants who phoned in bids from all over the nation, and picked-up animals from several geographically distributed BLM locations.

The Human Touch

Even while offering all the bells and whistles of the electronic age, hi-tech horse and burro auctions do not lack for the human touch. "I try to help adopters get the right kind of horse for their needs; part of my job is being a match-maker," explains Malloy. "If a big person needs a big horse, I’ll help them find one. If a horse is high strung, I’ll tell them."

Winning bidders on Internet or satellite adoptions can, without penalty, decline to adopt animals during an auction or when they meet animals at pick-up time. "We want to place animals with adopters who really want them," assures Malloy.

Future Events

The next Internet and satellite auctions are scheduled for January 2000. The January Internet auction will feature pintos, Kigers (Spanish blood), halter trained and wild fire survivors.

All bidders in BLM horse and burro auctions are screened to ensure that they are equipped to pick up adopted animals from BLM facilities, and to shelter and care for animals. Minimum bids start at $125.00.

For More Information

Visit Internet adoptions or call 1-800-370-3936.

Visit satellite adoptions or call 1-800-417-9647.

About the Author

Contact Lily Whiteman, National Partnership for Reinventing Government, 750-17th St., NW, Suite 200, Washington, DC 20006; (202) 694-0086 or