The Grand Canyon was founded as a national park in 1919, and each year the natural wonder attracts thousands of visitors who admire its vast rich color and deep, wild cliffs.
But the Grand Canyon’s section known as the Havasu has been receiving criticism for years over the way horses and mules are treated by natives.
The Canyon is home to the Havasupai people for the past 800 years, the Havasu Falls website says. The name Havasupai means “people of the blue-green water,” referring to the pristine color of the famed Havasu Falls and its surrounding pools and waterfalls.”
Havasu Falls is known as “The Garden of Eden” of the desert. Many tourists use horses, some for trail riding, some as pack animals to carry their gear as they hike the miles of rocky trails.
On April 26, Earth Network News started a petition to “Save the Pack Animals at Havasu Falls in the Grand Canyon, Arizona.”
The petition was in response to an April 15 report by ABC 15, wherein federal authorities charged a Havasupai man with animal abuse.
The charges were following an investigation involving the Bureau of Indian Affairs, Arizona Department of Agriculture, and Federal Bureau of Investigation, after there were claims of mistreatment among horses held in a corral near Supai.
The horses, according to court documents, were in poor condition.
“[N]o visible food…and no apparent vegetation for the horses to eat. (One horse) appeared to be thin, malnourished and it had had numerous visible open sores and/or wounds.”
The horses are used for trail rides, carrying tourists between Hualapi Hilltop and Havasu Falls.
— Freedom4Horses (@Freedom4Horses) April 18, 2016
The horses’ caretaker, Leland Joe, admitted that the horses had been in the same shape for about nine months’ time.
Lieutenant Scott Small, representing the Bureau of Indian Affairs, declared in the probable cause statement that he had “never observed any animals in Supai that have shown as many signs of both malnourishment and abuse.”
Susan Ash, of the advocacy group SAVE Havasu Horses, said it is common knowledge that some Havasupai residents who rent their horses out to tourists do not treat the animals well, 12 News reported. “She said that the animals aren’t given enough food or water and are never given medical attention, calling it a ‘death camp for horses.’”
“There are so many reports of witnessed abuse and violence against these animals that we can only imagine what’s going on when no one is looking.”
Joe, 34, has been charged with felony animal neglect, totaling four counts of animal cruelty in connection with his treatment of the horses. But the SAVE (which stands for Stop Animal Violence) group is asking for a boycott on tourism in Havasu until the new laws are implemented.
“We are calling on the Havasupai Tribal Council to establish a minimum standard of care for all horses and mules living in Supai, AZ.”
Reviews by tourists confirm that the abuse of equines is a common factor during visits to Havasu.
In the Chronicle of the Horse forum, Bells wrote,
“I was there the week of April 10th. Some of the horse/mule strings were in fine condition. Some not so much. It is a very, very hard life. 20 miles every day – and not an easy 20 miles – the last 2 miles up are really tough.
“No fresh water at the top so no food either. And it is freaking hot there (not so bad when we were there). But pretty much an endurance run every day up a rocky trail.
“Some horses in a pen next to the village (we did not see them in work) were starvation thin and no food to be seen – they were eating poop, a donkey w/slipper feet (again didn’t see him in work as he could barely move) but seemed to be in ok weight, and on some pack strings lots of twisted girths, breast collars that were uselessly hanging incorrectly, leg sores, ugh.”
On TripAdvisor, a review by Stephanie T. was titled “Animal Abuse of the Mules.”
“I just got back from Havasupai and had a great hiking experience and the waterfalls were beautiful, however, I don’t think i will be going back. This was the first time for me and I, unfortunately, decided to use the mule service for my larger pack.
“Once we finished the hike back to the hilltop, we had to wait for the mules to come up. It was over 100 degree weather and when the first group of mules arrived, they were exhausted from carrying everything, they were tied up for over 2 hours and were not given any water the whole time.
“There were a couple horses which had sores on their legs and on their back and one was limping and still tied to another horse to be taken back down to the village, which is around 8-9miles, still without any water. Given the money these people are making from this, I would only hope they start treating their animals better.”
Another TripAdvisor review, by Ron43el, was in agreement. “Not worth the animal abuse.”
“Yes, the falls are breath taking, but I am ashamed to have giving my money to Supai.
“This 11 mile hike should have been full of natural wonders and fascinating geology; instead it was 11 miles of fecal matter and abused animals.
“The first mile down the switch backs we encounter the fresh corpse of a horse that had falling off of the cliffs, while carrying the belongings of lazy tourists. The animal was discarded and left on the trail. The sight and smell is indescribable.
“Once we reached the village the sights did not get much better. There were hundreds of emaciated horses, mule, and donkeys.
“The animals have opened wounds and the scars of old wounds, many were tired on 3 ft. ropes to random make shift structures. The streams running though the village are littered with trash.
“If I would have known that experiencing the canyon and falls meant that I would be financially supporting this level of disregard for the animals and landscape I would have never gone.”
Leland Joe’s horses are currently in the care of the Coconino County Humane Association.
[Image via Charles T. Bennett/Shutterstock]