Can we please stop calling wild horses invasive?

Przewalski's horse

As we have said before here on Habitat for Horses, cattle are the invasive species NOT horses. Horses biology developed here for a very long time before cattle every roamed the West. Anytime someone in the news uses the word “invasive species” when speaking of wild horses, please source the article below in your comments. ~ HfH

From: The Contemplative Mammoth
By: Jacquelyn Gill

Przewalski's horse

One of the oldest species of horse still in existence is Przewalski’s horse (Photo: WordPress)

The horse has a complex and fascinating environmental history. Wild horses have become such an icon of the American west that it’s easy to forget that humans introduced them to the continent five hundred years ago, during the age of European exploration. Horses quickly became part of Native American livelihoods and played an integral role in Western expansion, from Lewis and Clark’s expedition to the establishment of the open range ranching culture that still exists today. For centuries, horses played a central role in exploration and human livelihoods, until horse power was largely replaced by fossils fuels. Now, the human-horse relationship is shifting once again, and in contentious ways.

In this piece on wild horses published in Slate a couple of weeks ago, Warren Cornwall wrote about managing horses as an “invasive species.” Certainly, horses have been a continual source of controversy in recent decades, as American and Canadian land managers, animal rights activists, and ranchers fight over culling campaigns and other management techniques. As Cornwell writes,

But a majestic icon can also be a four-legged pest. Today’s horses are an invasive species, introduced to the Americas by Europeans. Left unchecked, they overwhelm fragile desert ecosystems by chomping too much of the greenery to stubble. And they compete for the grass with another invader that has more economic clout: cattle.

Except here’s the thing: horses are native to North America. They were certainly here well before humans. Fifty million years ago, Eohippus (cousin to rhinos and tapirs) was dog-sized and living in tropical forests — hardly recognizable as horse-like. But by 4 million years ago, the genus Equus had evolved, and unlike its ancestors, had instead adapted to open, semi-arid grasslands that were expanding as the climates cooled and dried in the Pliocene (5.3 million years ago). Today’s horses, Equus ferus, are likely descended from a holarctic population of horses that once spread through Eurasia and North America, taking advantage of land bridges exposed during glaciations.

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AUTHOR: Amber Barnes
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