Activist says horses suffer on Havasupai Trail
The history behind the new billboard on 66 near the Kingman Airport
KINGMAN – Supai is a charming little village within the Grand Canyon, the capital of the Havasupai Indian reservation, popular with tourists thanks to it blue-green waterfalls. Accessible only by mule, helicopter or on foot, it is the only place in the U.S. where mail is still carried out by mules, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
But this charm and doing things the old way has its price. And this price is now being visualized on a gigantic billboard one might see on Highway 66 at Thompson Avenue, near Kingman Airport.
While the billboard seems to mainly target tourists on their way from Las Vegas to the Havasupai Trail, many locals will see it every day.
The Supai horses are being worked to death, claims Susan Ash, an animal lover who four years ago started the SAVE Havasupai Horses initiative. The organization initiated the buzz around the treatment of pack animals in the Havasupai tribal section of the Grand Canyon, eventually getting PETA’s offices in Washington D.C. involved.
“Over the last few years I received so many words of thanks from people in Kingman,” Ash said. “I am so grateful. There are definitely people in Kingman that know all about it.”
“There are eye witnesses, photos and videos of lame horses and horses with open wounds,” said Melanie Johnson, PETA Assistant Manager for the Animals in Entertainment Campaign.
Her department tries to assist with incidents like that all over the nation. Most recently, they got involved in the case of an overweight black bear kept in a cage by the Union County Sportsmen's Club in Millmont, Pennsylvania.
Ash is thrilled that she got the PETA’s attention, and thrilled with the billboard, she told The Daily Miner.
“I’ve been fighting for four years,” she said, “with the Havasupai Tribe refusing to acknowledge the problem this whole time.”
Since 2019, Ash added, there are signs along the trail asking tourists to not take photographs of the horses. “That’s pretty telling, isn’t it?”
It is hard to get in touch with the Havasupai Tribe, unless you want to make a reservation with them. Their website is working only partially, and they did not respond to a voice mail.
A tribal representative contends that progress is being made to improve the lives of transport animals on the reservation, AZ Mirror reported in May 2018. Two months earlier, Arizona Daily Sun wrote the Havasupai Tribe confirmed three animal abuse cases in its tribal court have ended in convictions while two more counts of animal cruelty were just filed.
“They are getting away with this for years,” Ash said. “Nobody was exposing this fact until recently. Those animals belong to members of the tribe. And it’s not that we are against packing operations. But they have to and can be done properly, with animals being fed properly and given rest days.”
In spring 2018, there was an incident reported, part of which was documented on a video. In a report made to the Bureau of Indian Affairs, a wrangler was said to have kicked a horse in the head, causing it to collapse on the trail. The video does not show a kick.
Pack animals owned by tribal members regularly transport various goods up and down the canyon, often using members hired out as guides and wranglers. Various outfitting companies also hire the animals to transport tourists and their supplies. Tourists also can hire a mule or horse directly through the tribe's travel office.
SAVE Havasupai Horses said thousands of letters have been sent by its followers to the Bureau of Indian Affairs in Washington, D.C., and to the Phoenix public-relations firm that represents the Havasupai Tribe.
The group opposes the continued use of the animals without extensive improvements in their care. Its website is https://havasupaihorses.org/.
The story was modified on Tuesday, Nov. 12 after being reported that a quote used in the story was retracted.