GRAND CANYON, Ariz. - For decades, thousands of tourists from around the world have visited Havasupai at the bottom of the Grand Canyon.
During that time, many of those tourists and others have shared stories about seeing emaciated, starving and injured horses and mules being used to carry hundreds of pounds of hiking gear to the falls.
In April, 12 News was the first to report that the U.S. Attorney's Office prosecuted Leland Joe of Supai for horse abuse. It was the first time in history that the U.S. government stepped in to try to stop the pack animal abuse in the canyon.
Since then, many animal rights organizations and tourists from all over the globe have taken their concerns of the abuse to social media outlets. This allowed the groups to reach thousands of people who now have a voice, and who years ago, without Facebook and Twitter, could not have shared their stories.
Thursday, the Havasupai Tribal Council announced it temporarily discontinued third-party guide services to Havasupai Falls. A statement from the tribe said the council will work to enhance the current licensing process for using pack animals. This means for the time being, businesses will not be allowed to rent the horses.
“The Tribal Council is doing this in order to preserve the campground and trails for the betterment of the tribe and the thousands of tourists that visit Havasupai Falls each year,” said Don E. Watahomigie, chairman of the Havasupai Tribe.
The statement also reads, "The new regulations, among other things, will address group size, permit fees and private pack-animal reservations that will ultimately require all reservations to be made and conformed through the tourism office," Watahomigie stated.
Popular businesses like REI and hiking companies including, but not limited to Wildland Trekking, Pygmy and others charge each tourist hundreds of dollars to go into the canyon and have a pack animal carry their gear. Tourists pay REI and other big companies upwards of $2,000 per person for a trip into the falls.
In the past month, at least two travel groups stated on Facebook that they would no longer use abused pack animals to carry their customers' gear down. However, a 12 News team spent the day at the Havasupai trailhead and saw injured animals carrying gear for some of these same travel groups.
San Francisco resident Katie Migliavacca contacted 12 News in April. She and her sister waited a year to get in to the canyon, but said they saw so many emaciated horses with deep bleeding wounds that they cut their trip to Supai short. She said she didn't want to see any more sick horses.
Today, she's very pleased that the tribe is looking at how it will take care of pack animals in the future.
"I'm not overly sensitive to knowing horses are work animals, but what we saw there was horrible," she said. "We saw horses on short leads tied to posts with no shade or water. We saw one horse that had its body lying on the trail, but his head was still up off the ground. He was exhausted."
In March, within a few days of posting pictures of the skinny horses on Facebook, she had more than 20,000 people share her posts.
Meantime, at least seven horses have been taken out of the canyon for medical care at the Coconino County Humane Association in Flagstaff. Some have already been adopted, but most are so sick it could take months for them to heal.
Abbie Fink, the Havasupai Tribe's public relations executive said at this point she is not sure how long the tribe will stop allowing travel companies to use pack animals.
She said that decision lies with the tribal council, and the tribe is still allowing private individuals to rent the horses at this time.