Our directory of things of interest

University Directory

Nowhere to run: the wild horses of the USA

Wild horse numbers are expected to reach over 100,000 in the next four years across the western states of America Wild horse numbers are expected to reach over 100,000 in the next four years across the western states of America jlundyphotos
28 Feb
2017
Latest figures suggest that there are more than twice as many feral horses roaming across the plains of the American West than the land is capable of sustaining

An estimated 67,000 wild horses and feral donkeys are roaming the ranges of ten western US states, far above the sustainable target of 26,000 as designated by the country’s Bureau of Land Management (BLM). ‘Without active controls, horse populations can become a stress for grazing land,’ says Dr Robert Fonner, an environmental economist at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

Not only is the overpopulation difficult for cattle ranchers, who argue that they ruin rangelands, it is also a fraught issue for animal welfare groups. With few natural predators, the horses are predicted to exceed 100,000 in the next four years, starving each other of water and food. They can be rounded up using helicopters, though this has become a somewhat controversial practice as it can cause stress and injury to foals and older animals. There is also the problem of what to do with the horses once they are contained. Already there are around 46,000 horses penned into temporary pastures, of which only 2,500 to 3,000 are moved on for adoption every year.

Free roaming horses are an enduring icon, but an effective and sustainable population management plan has eluded land managers for decades

The BLM is faced with the difficult decision of how best to manage the overpopulation, a problem complicated by the disputed ‘wildness’ of the horses. While archeological evidence shows that native horses lived on the continent 12,500 years ago, the mustangs that roam the West today are descended from domestic breeds brought from Spain during the settlement of North America. In 1971, their protection was enshrined with the Wild and Free-Roaming Horses and Burros Act, which stated that the animals are ‘living symbols of the historic and pioneer spirit of the West, which continue to contribute to the diversity of life forms within the Nation and enrich the lives of the American people.’

‘Free roaming horses are an enduring icon,’ says Fonner, ‘but an effective and sustainable population management plan has eluded land managers for decades.’ Indeed, a citizens panel’s advice to slaughter a large number of horses last September was met with national condemnation.

A more popular option than slaughtering is to try and sterilise the animals, however the current drug must be administered annually, which costs resources and time. With present population trends unsustainable, it is likely the BLM will use a hybrid plan of fertility control and gathering to manage wild horses in the coming years.

This was published in the March 2017 edition of Geographical magazine.

Related items

Subscribe and Save!

geo line break v3

Free eBooks - Geographical Newsletter

Sign up for our weekly newsletter today and get a FREE eBook collection!

geo line break v3

University of Winchester

geo line break v3

EDUCATION PARTNERS

Aberystwyth University University of Greenwich The University of Derby

TRAVEL PARTNERS

Ponant

Silversea

Travel the Unknown

NEVER MISS A STORY - Follow Geographical on Social

Want to stay up to date with breaking Geographical stories? Join the thousands following us on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram and stay informed about the world.

More articles in NATURE...

Wildlife

Two whale populations on either side of the African continent…

Geophoto

March traditionally heralds the beginning of spring, a time of…

Wildlife

An innovative project to utilise Laos’ elephant experts in service…

Polar

Despite common belief that Antarctica is vastly uninhabited, humans are…

Wildlife

Javan rhinos survived the recent Krakatoa tsunami, but the species…

Energy

As the world turns away from fossil fuels, one question…

Geophoto

The winners of the Outdoor Photographer of the Year 2018…

Climate

New legislation in Florida aims to solve various environmental issues,…

Polar

The world’s magnetic model is getting an early update, as…

Climate

Marco Magrini looks at the financial pressures spilling out into the…

Geophoto

Few sights are more dramatic than a star-filled sky at…

Polar

A region of Antarctica previously known for relative stability is…

Tectonics

Everything we thought we knew about eruptions could be wrong

Oceans

Sea levels are rising across the globe, but along the…

Polar

Seismometers buried in the Ross Ice Shelf have revealed that…

Wildlife

A tightening of restrictions on the insecticides known as neonicotinoids…

Wildlife

Bonnethead sharks, the second smallest member of the hammerhead family,…

Nature

There’s more than enough plastic in the world. That’s why,…

Wildlife

The recent discovery of more than 200 million termite mounds…

Geophoto

The new year still remains a popular time to set…