Feral vs. wild horses

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High Country News, Monica Gokey | Apr 11, 2013

(Interesting debate. While I disagree with her final analysis, it adds fuel to the fire of wild vs. feral. If horses are indeed native, they should not be removed from National Parks. If they are feral, then they should be removed, according to the BLM and various state officials, because of the competition with “native” species. – Jerry)

images-25The question of whether mustangs in the West are feral versus wild is a controversial one; it’s got a knack for appearing in the comment section of many a mustang story. Mustang advocates are adamant the wild horse is a bona fide North American wildlife species – on par with deer, elk, bison and pronghorn. Scientists, ever the party poopers, beg to differ.

Horse evolution is well documented in North America’s fossil record – first as a small dog-sized animal that walked on five toes over 50 million years ago, on to larger equines that bore their weight on single hooves. Horses went extinct on North America some 12,000 years ago – likely due to some cocktail of climate change and overhunting by man – but not before they migrated over the land bridge into Asia (where they further diversified into asses and zebras).

Despite their extinction on North America, horses guaranteed themselves a permanent spot in history when humans domesticated them some 4,000-5,000 years ago on the Asian steppes (possibly earlier). A partnership was born, and equines became a catalyst for human migration (and war).

Once domesticated, horses carried Gengis Khan’s empire into power. They were painted by Egyptians, Romans and Greeks. They bore the weight of the Crusaders on their backs (nobody said being friends with humans was easy). And 500 years ago, Spanish conquistadors couriered horses back to their evolutionary homeland aboard ships. Some escaped and became the seed stock for what would become a burgeoning wild horse population.

But are the horses here today the same animals that left 12,000 years ago? That is, how much did horses change in the 4,000-5,000 years since they were domesticated?

In wild species, nature selects for traits that best equip an animal for survival. But when humans are involved, we select for traits that meet our needs – a practice dubbed selective breeding. A new study in Nature suggests that by domesticating animals (dogs, in this case), we actually cause changes in their genetic hardwiring.

CONTINUED – To read the entire article and to comment CLICK HERE

AUTHOR: Jerry Finch
10 Comments
  • Jodi

    I consider the term Naturalization/Naturalized to be more accurate of a description. These are not animals that were released into the ecosystem yesterday. They have lived unaided by man for centuries.
    People pick and choose what non-native species they will tolerate. The Ring Necked Pheasant is a prime example of a non native species taking away food and shelter from our native game birds. Their habitats are more specific and limited than wild horses.
    My state is determined to stock Walleye in lakes that they do not belong in at tax payer expense. To my knowledge no one is calling for the eradication of either species because they can be hunted/fished…

    April 11, 2013
  • Daryl

    the BLM is full of crap and trying to sell it any way they can, the horses that are out there should be able to stay, they turned wild. No matter how they got there. All they want to do is trap horses.

    April 11, 2013
  • Arlene

    THE blm IS PAID WITH American peoples hard earned tax dollars , I totally resent that fact ,I am ashamed this is how they use our those dollars!!!!!!! This is a Great American Conspiracy !!!! And Must be stopped,

    April 11, 2013
    • Daryl

      Here here, got this right, save the horses.

      April 12, 2013
  • Iknow nothing of the scienctific side of a horse wild or otherwise. But I know they are a beautiful creation. The wild ones should be left alone to be themselves. Why does the BLM feel the need to remove them? As someone stated it is a land grab. I remember going fishing with my father and he could fishing holes all over. Now every thing is fenced in. Not only is wildlife loosing habitat so are we.

    April 11, 2013
    • Daryl

      Peggy you said it wonderfuly.

      April 12, 2013
  • Arlene

    The twisting of the Actual truth goes on, no such thing as a feral wild Mustang , they are wild as Nature intended !!!!!! They have been called WILD since the very beginning !!!!!!!Absolutly no debate here !!!!!! They are what they are WILD , never heard them called Feral Mustangs have you ???????

    April 12, 2013
    • Daryl

      No I have not……………!

      April 12, 2013
  • Mustang man

    Wild and Domestic/Feral are strange words with strange terms. The definition of Domestic is nothing more then the ability and wiliness of a WILD animal to breed in captivity. So are Tigers domestic since there are more in captivity then in the wild? Zebra’s? They breed readily in captivity. All Horses are wild animals that simply coexist and comingle with apes (humans) well. Where they birth their babies is irrelevant except to man and our desire to either own or dominate everything. Man’s fascination with creating words and definitions for them goes back to all the religious crap of writing an explanation for wanting to take something or somebody from what they have and are willing to share but not give wholly over. It’s all about money and who wants it and doesn’t want to share it. They have lived out there for 500+ years and likely never stopped living here before the arrival of the Spanish, either way they have been here and deserve to be left alone. Starve, get eaten by predators etc. Its what life is about and it balances itself right up to the point man thinks he/she can manage it better then the planet has been doing for billions of years.

    April 12, 2013
    • Daryl

      Mustang Man you said it, hit the head of the nail….but people don’t want to believe it, we have woke up a lot of them, and they are sick about the horses and slaughter and other farm animals being beaten and thrown around and kill in horrible ways, what in the world has happened to us,this is USA for goodness sake, we need to act like it.

      April 12, 2013