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Advocates Allege More Pack Animal Abuse on Havasupai Reservation


Animal rights advocates have released a video that purports to show mistreatment of horses and mules hauling tourist gear to Havasupai in the Grand Canyon. KNAU’s Ryan Heinsius reports, the tribe has faced numerous allegations in recent years of pack animal abuse.

People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals says the video montage was recorded in winter and summer this year. It appears to show malnourished and injured animals hauling tourist gear 10 miles one way to the falls. One mule is missing part of an ear and others are seen with fur and skin worn away by their saddles.

"We’re urging the Havasupai Tribe to develop new rules to address these systemic issues … And we’re also calling on tourists not to use animals to pack gear," says Melanie Johnson with PETA’s Animals and Entertainment division.

In 2017, federal authorities arrested a tribal member for animal abuse, and the tribe’s court convicted three others on cruelty charges last year. 

"The tribe has never denied that there have been instances where there have been circumstances surrounding some issues with the animals and they take those accusations very seriously and they do everything they can do to investigate," says Abbie Fink, a spokesperson for the Havasupai.

Fink says animal abuse should be reported to the Bureau of Indian Affairs, which has investigated seven such cases this year. Only one resulted in charges filed against a non-tribal member. The BIA did not respond to repeated requests for comment.

Ryan Heinsius joined the KNAU newsroom as executive producer in 2013 and was named news director and managing editor in 2024. As a reporter, he has covered a broad range of stories from local, state and tribal politics to education, economy, energy and public lands issues, and frequently interviews internationally known and regional musicians. Ryan is an Edward R. Murrow Award winner and a Public Media Journalists Association Award winner, and a frequent contributor to NPR's Morning Edition, All Things Considered and national newscast.
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