FLAGSTAFF — The Havasupai Tribe said three animal abuse cases in its tribal court have ended in convictions since it promised last year to make animal-cruelty offenses a top priority.
Two other people have also had animal cruelty charges filed against them in the past month, the Arizona Daily Sun reported .
Animal treatment concerns arose two years ago when federal authorities arrested a tribal member for abuse of his horses. The arrest brought widespread attention as well as calls for increased regulation, enforcement and pressure on trekking companies that use pack horses.
Pack animals like horses, mules and donkeys, the majority of which are owned by tribal members, are used to haul tourists' gear to and from the famous blue-green waterfalls on Havasupai in the Grand Canyon.
The tribe responded that it would implement a permit system for packers, inspect and score horses based on body condition and then require that horses meet a certain body condition to be allowed to pack.
Last year, after the arrest of a second tribal member on animal cruelty charges connected to one of his horses, the tribe announced it had hired a tribal prosecutor for the first time and a tribal court judge.
"We are working diligently to identify those few tribal members who engage in this type of behavior and allow our tribal court system to prosecute such individuals," former Tribal Chairman Don Watahomigie said.
Soleil Dolce, vice president of the Arizona Equine Rescue Organization, said the tribe's response is notable, but the reality is there continues to be horses removed from the Havasupai's canyon reservation.
Dolce said that has been the situation for "as long as anyone can remember."
"I feel frustrated. Even though I get they're taking measures and I know things take time it's been two years and we're seeing horses come out in just as bad of a condition as they ever have," Dolce said.
Her organization helps rehabilitate animals removed from the reservation that are in an "extreme condition," she said.
Tourists need to make sure they aren't supporting packing operations that don't care for their horses properly, Dolce said.
"Tourists have a lot of power in this situation if we can help them understand that," she said.
Abbie Fink, who works with a public relations firm hired by the tribe, said an estimated 70 percent of tribal members own horses.