Many people view wild horses as a symbol of America’s wild west. But if anything, they are a symbol of a world long-vanished before indigenous peoples settled there, followed by cowboys and ranchers who claimed the land. Indeed, horses evolved in North America as early as 55 million years ago, The American Museum of Natural History notes.
Hypohippus, by Heinrich Harder. Image license Public Domain, U.S.
The earliest horses to gallop across North America were no larger than small dogs, and at one time the horse family tree (known as the family Equidae) was enormous, full of many branches. All have since vanished except one teensy twig — which comprises today’s modern horses. It may seem impossible, but even as recently as 10 million years ago, more than a dozen horse species occupied the forests and grasslands of this continent.
We Are Terrorizing Wild Horses
But now that we’re firmly planted in the Holocene, wild horses are being tormented across much of Southern Utah. The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) is using helicopters to round the animals up, WeLoveAnimals reports. The helicopters dip and plunge. The horses are so frightened that they don’t notice nearby barbed-wire fences and rush head-first into them, hitting the ground hard on the other side.
Just as this poor horse did in the photo below
This horse, panicked by a helicopter, crashes into a barbed-wire fence and hits the ground hard. Image by The American Wild Horse Campaign, Facebook
This was the scene earlier in August at the Bible Springs Complex and the Sulphur Herd Management Area (HMA) in southern Utah. These two areas are designated as public lands, and an observer with the American Wild Horse Campaign was there to witness the horror show.
Helicopter harassing a terrified horse. Image by the American Wild Horse Campaign via Facebook
The BLM was there to round up 250 horses. There are currently 70,000 horses in the U.S., and technically, they are federally protected. But the BLM claims there are too many wild horses on public lands and that they are over-grazing and destroying the environment. But the fact that there was 92.0 million head of cattle in the U.S. as of January 1, 2016, all of whom do lots of grazing on public lands isn’t a problem. No, just the wild horses are.
And animal activists aren’t buying the BLM’s claims
Many feel the bureau is sacrificing the horses to make room for cattle.
“Wild horses eat grass and cattle eat grass,” Grace Kuhn, who’s the communications director for the American Wild Horse Campaign told The Dodo. “But livestock brings in the money. Wild horses don’t.”
Panicked horses run away from a helicopter. Image by the American Wild Horse Campaign via Facebook
The methods that the BLM uses to capture the horses worry Kuhn.
“Helicopters stampede the horses from miles,” she said. “Then they funnel them into this area and let go what they call a ‘Judas horse’— a trained domestic horse who has a harness. Horses are herd animals, so they follow the lead animal into wherever. So it’s tricking the horses by leading them into the trap.”
The Helicopters Terrify The Wild Horses
Horses didn’t evolve to deal with these huge and loud mechanical beasts, after all.
“These horses are wild animals, so they’ve lived their entire lives out there,” Kuhn added. “Then you bring these scary objects — I don’t know if you’ve ever been around a helicopter, but they’re very loud and they [the horses] don’t know what it is.”
Helicopter pilots then begin trying to separate the horses.
“They’re terrified … and they get separated immediately,” she said. “Stallions are separated from mares, and mares are separated from the babies. And you can hear them oftentimes screaming for each other.”
Which is why this photo is heartbreaking.
Releasing the Judas horse. Image by the American Wild Horse Campaign via Facebook
Stallions are intentionally separated from their families and placed together in one enclosure, which is a really bad idea because they don’t know each other. In the wild, a stallion leads a herd of several mares and is aggressive towards other stallions.
“This is where injuries happen,” Kuhn said. “You get really, really stressed horses, and you have multiple roundups where horses break their necks from running into panels because they are so stressed. You see them jumping out to get away. It’s heartbreaking, and I think it’s a terrifying thing for a wild horse.”
Once the horses are rounded up, they are placed in holding facilities, which are “small, crowded pens,” similar to cattle feedlots, Kuhn said. These are meant to be temporary, but the animals often languish in them for as long as three or four years.
Wild horses at a holding facility. Image by the American Wild Horse Campaign via Facebook
And it’s excruciatingly difficult to find homes for these beautiful horses.
“Adoption rates are very, very low,” Kuhn said. “For domestic horses, the market is saturated … but then you compound that with wild horses, and they’re a harder sell.”
We can be glad that the BLM no longer ships wild horses to slaughterhouses in Canada and Mexico, the fact is, these roundups still claim lives. No horses died during the two roundups mentioned above, but four horses died in other roundups conducted in Utah around the same time period.
Controlling horse populations safely and effectively
One of the best ways to keep the herds in check is to protect their natural predators, Kuhn said.
“The BLM always says, ‘Wild horses don’t have natural predators,’ but they do. There are countless studies that say mountain lions will take out foals. It’s not the most glamorous thing, but it’s how we balance an ecosystem.”
But it’s often the predators who get taken out, to protect grazing cattle.
“Predators are so important to an ecosystem, but when you have livestock grazing on public lands, they kill off the predators … like wolves and bears and lions and coyotes,” she added.
The Campaign also advocates the use of fertility control, something that can easily be done through the use of vaccines. You can see this in the video below.
Kuhn discusses the BLM’s inhumane treatment of the horses in the next video.
Recent evidence suggests wild horses became extinct in North America about 7,500 years ago, and the horses we see now are the descendants of those brought by the Spanish. In their own way, they are a unique part of history, and as such deserve to be protected.
Featured image by the American Wild Horse Campaign via Facebook.
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