Tags: Trees | Might | Have | Killed | Horses

Trees Might Have Killed Horses

Friday, 25 May 2001 12:00 AM

Scientists researching so-called mare reproductive loss syndrome said cyanide was detected in tests of dead foals and fetuses sent to Gluck Equine Research Center at the University of Kentucky for examination. As of noon Wednesday, the center had received 532 aborted and stillborn fetuses and foals since April 28. About 20 percent of this season's foals have been lost.

At an informal presentation late Thursday at Keeneland race track, Dr. M. Scott Smith, dean of the University of Kentucky College of Agriculture, said there still had been no conclusion on what led to the deaths of 2,000 fetuses and foals.

"We believe that cyanide poisoning is a primary agent in both late-term abortions and early fetal loss problems," Smith told the gathering. "The wild black cherry trees are a likely source for this cyanide, and the eastern tent caterpillar is a leading candidate to be either directly or indirectly involved in carrying this to horses."

Cherry trees are the caterpillars' favorite host.

Scientists had already ruled out viruses, bacteria and toxins in hay and pasture grasses as the cause.

"This was an excellent year for caterpillars," said Dr. Terry Fitzgerald, a professor of biological sciences at State University of New York College at Cortland. "Next year should be a very big year, too."

Dr. Thomas Tobin, a Gluck professor, said it was common knowledge that wilted leaves or broken branches from black cherry trees are deadly to cattle and sheep. The caterpillars are not only immune to cyanide, they carry residues and excrete it on the ground to discourage predators.

Tobin said it appears cyanide caused the foaling problems although the levels were not high enough to cause health problems for the mares themselves.

"Precisely how the delivery to the mare occurred is unclear," he said. The researchers said it is possible mares also munched cherry tree seedlings.

"We have noticed an association with the presence of cherry trees in pastures where mares lost fetuses and the presence of massive numbers of caterpillars," said Dr. David Powell, who is part of the Gluck research team.

University of Kentucky agronomist Jimmy Henning advised breeders to fence off cherry trees on their property before allowing mares to return to pastures. He said it appears horses picked up the cyanide from fences and grass where caterpillars deposited their waste.

The researchers said that the problem appeared to be dissipating and that there was no need to ship mares out of state.

A study of 487 mares bred between Feb. 9 and May 2 indicates 29 percent lost their foals, with those who were bred earlier in the period the most likely to abort.

The situation has already had a multimillion-dollar impact on Kentucky's $1.2 billion breeding industry. The owners of stud horses are not paid until a healthy foal is delivered.

Copyright 2001 by United Press International.

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Scientists researching so-called mare reproductive loss syndrome said cyanide was detected in tests of dead foals and fetuses sent to Gluck Equine Research Center at the University of Kentucky for examination. As of noon Wednesday, the center had received 532 aborted and...
Trees,Might,Have,Killed,Horses
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2001-00-25
Friday, 25 May 2001 12:00 AM
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