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.
VIDEO Return to Freedom American Wild Horse Sanctuary