Tens of Thousands of Wild Horses Face Mass Cull After Mustangs Breed Too Fast on Great Plains
- The iconic horse of the American West threatens natural ecosystems
- About 37,000 mustangs roam the US prairies in ten states
- Another 50,000 held in temporary pastures
- Authorities say populations have reached a “critical mass”
They are an icon of the American West and a symbol of the country’s frontier history, but now hundreds of mustang horses face sacrifice due to overpopulation.
Under existing laws, the government pays ranchers to adopt out thousands of these “wild” horses a year in order to keep the population down. Mustangs are not a native species to the United States and are known to have an adverse effect on natural ecosystems.
The current system of managing these threats has been in place since 1971, but now rising feed costs have caused an increasing number of American ranchers to refuse to confront mustangs.
Mustangs are considered a symbol of the frontier history of the American West.
The Government uses helicopters to catch mustangs and thin the populations
Activists say helicopter grazing is cruel and does not distinguish fit horses from young and older populations.
According to activists, pregnant mares and young foals are sometimes stampeded across miles and miles of rugged terrain.
Officials have warned that the government’s own pastures and short-term pens are exceeding capacity.
The result could mean that thousands of this precious breed will be slaughtered to contain overpopulation.
An estimated 37,000 wild horses and burros roam the prairies in ten states in the western United States.
Officials say this is 11,000 more than the manageable population, and the numbers are expected to double every four years.
There are currently around 50,000 wild horses and burros held in temporary pastures, three times the number there were a decade ago.
Despite the overpopulation crisis and the well-known effects of wildhosing on the natural habitats of other native animals, activists continue to fight the government over its management of mustangs in particular.
To reduce wild herd populations, helicopters are used to chase mustangs into traps. Some activists think this is cruel and harmful to a species they believe the United States should protect.
Suzanne Roy of the American Wild Horse Preservation Campaign said pregnant mares and foals are being struck by helicopters over miles of rugged terrain.
“Helicopters have no discernment,” he said. “They stampede the very old and the very young with attacks.”
Authorities have been accused of driving mustangs to extinction. However, only 99 of the 11,000 gathered on the plains last year died. That’s less than 1%.
Officials are now beginning to recognize that culling might be the only solution to containing the population.
The government legislation has been criticized for favoring ranchers who prefer land freed from wild horses to make way for livestock.
Authorities estimate that just under 50,000 wild horses are kept on temporary pastures.
There remains controversy over whether the mustang can be considered a native animal in North America.
Mrs. Roy denies this and questions the wisdom surrounding the belief that American land cannot support mustang populations.
He claims that the legislation greatly favors ranchers who need free land for livestock.
The problem could be better addressed by contraceptive measures using fertility drugs.
Tom Gorey of the Bureau of Land Management denied this was a suitable alternative.
He said: ‘Logistically, (contraception) is very difficult. It has not been proven to be a magic solution.
The United States Congress has recognized the mustang as “a living symbol of the historic and pioneering spirit of the West.”
The first Mustangs descended from Iberian horses brought to Mexico and Florida from Spain during the colonization of North America.
Most of these horses were of Andalusian, Arabian and Barb descent and were domesticated and domesticated animals for human use.
This has led to a dispute over whether it is entirely correct to call the mustang “wild”, since it is descended from a domestic breed that is not native to the natural habitat.
Native Americans quickly adopted the horse as their primary means of transportation. They were also used in battle, trade, and hunting, particularly bison hunting.
Some environmentalists argue that the mustang should be classified as indigenous because there is evidence that horses roamed North America in prehistoric times.
More than half of all North American Mustangs are found in Nevada, with other significant populations in Montana, Wyoming, and Oregon.
The government says the total manageable population in the wild should be 26,000, significantly lower than reality.
“We’re reaching critical mass,” added Tom Gorey. “And we don’t see any instant solutions.”