Wild Mustangs In Danger of Disappearing (Photos -Video)

The mustang is an icon of the west, standing as a symbol of freedom, strength, resilience and beauty. These hardy horses have played a major role in American history and have been shaped by the mountains and deserts they call home. Just two centuries ago there were more than 2 million mustangs roaming the western United States. But today, as a result of constant round-ups, there are fewer than 35,000 in the wild. Bands of mustangs are currently being "taken out" from the ranges.

Although these wild horses are admired as a symbol of freedom, they are also vilified as a competitor with cattle for grazing space or as a destructive force on fragile habitats. It is the cattle ranchers who are claiming that the mustangs are direct competition, but the truth is that wild mustangs are only on about 27 million acres of public land while millions of head of privately-owned cattle graze across some 245 million acres of public lands. The cattle even encroach upon those acres designated for wild horses.

Mustangs live in the more arid habitats, often with rougher forage and fewer water sources than most cattle can tolerate, therefore the claim of direct competition with cattle for forage space is rarely true. Also, mustangs are less damaging on ecosystems than cattle. Mustangs can range nine times farther from water sources than cattle can. They even have a different digestive system where they can get nutrition from poorer grasses and leave behind partially digested seeds which promotes biodiversity.

The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) is charged with managing the federal lands on which wild horses reside as well as the care and management of the wild horses themselves. The BLM's present answer to controlling horse populations is to conduct frequent round-ups that are often brutal and even deadly for the horses as they are driven in hot temperatures and at a pace where the babies cannot keep up. The captured mustangs are then held in short-term and long-term facilities where they attempt to adopt them out. If that approach fails they then sell them. The sold horses are often sent to slaughter in Canada and Mexico.

The BLM's approach to thinning out the herds is neither effective nor is it humane. It is true that without the presence of natural predators, that herd sizes can double in four years. So population control is needed but mustang advocates are pushing for a more humane method of managing the horse populations. They support the use of a non-hormonal fertility control called PZP. 60-95% effective but also fully reversible, it is not harmful to pregnant mares, and meets all of BLM's requirements for a fertility drug. It can also be administered to mares annually via dart gun. Herd numbers could be reduced drastically without reverting to the cruel roundup tactics currently being used.

There are currently more mustangs held in BLM holding facilities than there are in the wild. As of February 2012, there was a staggering 47,000 wild horses and wild burros held in holding pens. This comes at a cost of $60 million a year to tax payers. An economic model proposed by the Humane Society shows that the BLM could reach mustang management goals in 12 years by using PZP. This would save tax payers $200 million and eventually eliminating the need for controversial round-ups. The problem with keeping horse populations so low however could mean the extinction of the mustang as a breed.

While the story of mustangs appears to be rather dire, it is not without hope. The American Wild Horse Preservation Campaign is a coalition of over 45 organizations dedicated to protecting wild horses and has over 10 million supporters. AWHPC is actively working with Congress to rehabilitate the government's management policies surrounding wild horses. Hopefully some sort of agreement will be reached soon and a new government policy passed so that we will continue to have these iconic horses around for a long time.

 credit: Jaymi Heimbuch

 credit: Jaymi Heimbuch

 credit: Jaymi Heimbuch

 Choctaw Ponies

 credit: Jaymi Heimbuch

 credit: Rebecca Jackrel

 credit: Jaymi Heimbuch

 credit: Jaymi Heimbuch

 credit: Jaymi Heimbuch

 credit: Rebecca Jackrel

 credit: Rebecca Jackrel

 credit: Rebecca Jackrel

VIDEO Return to Freedom American Wild Horse Sanctuary
TreeHugger Presents: Return to Freedom - American Wild Horse Sanctuary from Rebecca Jackrel on Vimeo.

Responses to "Will our wild mustangs soon disappear from the wild?"

  1. Anonymous says:

    People seen to forget that if it was't for the mustang horse America would't be what it is today the horse helped to build America battles were fought and won on horse back they helped in the fields they helped the white settlers get to all the over America now that people don't want want them they kill them. America tries so hard to cover up it's wrong doings now it's time to stand together as one nation and protect the animals that helped to build your country if these wonderful animals fade away from your lands then your history will fade right along with it.

  2. Anonymous says:

    Why can't man leave wild animals alone?The animals were here on earth long before man became so demanding for space.The earth becomes poorer with every diminishing species.It is sad and foolish to destroy your own world in the name of greed.

  3. Anonymous says:

    The beautiful horse has helped people for thousands of years, just because we now have tractors etc doesn't mean that we have to abandon the horse. They are our friends, they have the right to roam wherever they want. Ranchers should just learn to live with them. People seem to think that once an animal has stopped being so useful to us it can die off or be killed off, thats not how it should be tho. Learn to live with nature, stop fighting it all the time.

  4. Anonymous says:

    If I had a choice I would rather ride a horse than drive a car. I am more nervous in a car than on a horse. I even fell off a horse once and didn't even get hurt. The horse even stopped when I fell off. Can the same be said of a car? Leave the Beautiful and Majestic Horses alone. They are not hurting anyone.

  5. Anonymous says:

    the problem is BLM is managing land as requested by ranchers and their politician friends.There is no interest what so ever in managing wildlife such as wild horses or wolves. The management "plan" is neither warranted nor scientific and is motivated by greed and ignorance. If they kill of all the wolves then they have an excuse to kill the horses, and they have the audacity to call this horrific treatment of animals management. The same thing is happening in Canada, The mustangs are rounded up by government "hunters" and shipped to slaughter houses in Cadada then shipped to Europe for human consumption. This is not management it is slaughter for profit. Steve Harding.

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