Wild Horses – Humanity’s Noble Challenge for Today!
Yet another special spring rolls around. This season is always such a delight and a sign of God’s promise to renew and give us all in our shared world another chance to realize our highest dreams. And so it is in the springtime that I reaffirm my commitment to true justice for the wild horses and all horses. And every horse is basically a wild horse at heart.
There’s a lot more to horses than meets the external eye or ear. These are highly evolved beings and they have a critical role to play concerning Life on Earth. They are true healers … ancient presences who possess deep wisdom concerning the mutual relationships that sustain us all, including all species. For example, horses possess an age-old knowledge of plants that is based on their diet and need for survival. They prune plants using their upper and lower incisors in a way that does not kill them. They also disperse and rotate their grazing so as not to overwhelm any given portion of their year-round habitat. As an ecologist, I could expound to great lengths on this subject, and you can read more in depth in my book: The Wild Horse Conspiracy, which delves into many other aspects as well concerning the wild horses as well as their cousins the wild burros.
It is a special delight to be with the wild horses at springtime, when they foal and when different bands come together drawn from their disparate, mosaic-like home ranges that often center around a mountain range As they interact socially, you can see dramatic encounters between proud stallions vying for pretty mares. This is also a time when younger mares and stallions depart from their band, striking out on their own to realize their unique and individual dreams for life – and we should all relate. Spring is in the air; and after the long, cold winter, the flowers are beautifully blossoming and the birds sweetly singing again. One feels, perceives a grand unity, connection with all fellow beings, no matter how outwardly different in form or function, place or role these seem, for each one is indispensable! For the emphasis is on that wonderful interrelation and what we share in common. For in the ultimate analysis, this is truly Everything – ALL!
Last night there came to me in a dream my dear old friend and companion of youth: Poco, the tall, bright chestnut stallion. With him I shared so many adventures in the deserts, forests, and mountains of western Nevada and eastern California. I know it was him! Call this the soul’s finer intelligence! He was in an auction and at risk of being picked up by killer buyers, so I hastened to his stall and led him away from this horrid place! He was so glad to see me, and, believe me, the feeling was mutual!
Poco has come to me before, and this past year, more than once. He came to me when I was in Australia this past fall (springtime down under). I spent six weeks in this largely desert continent that is presently home to the world’s largest population of wild horses, or brumbies as they are called. My dream occurred right after I had defended the wild horses in a poster session at the annual conference of the Ecological Society of Australia. This took place at Alice Springs in the center of the Outback, where many Aborigines still dwell. Perhaps a half-million brumbies are left in Australia, and although horses do not have their ancient evolutionary origin and long-standing development in Australia, but rather in North America, they are still capable of making many positive contributions to some Australian ecosystems. This would be in places where European settlers during the past two-and-a-third centuries have greatly altered the original community with its marsupials, or pouched mammals such as kangaroos, its gum (Eucalyptus) and wattle (Acacia) trees, its sharp, pointy bladed Spinifex grasses, and all the rest of the splendid and unique species of this Island Continent. For example, since horses are post-gastric, or caecal, digesters, they balance out the overwhelming number of domesticated sheep and cattle that Europeans have imposed upon Australia, as well as the deer introduced to be hunted by man. All these are ruminant-digesters. This is a major point I have emphasized for range managers here in North America and it applies to Europe, Asia, Africa, and throughout the world. Ruminants more thoroughly digest the vegetation they eat and consequently their feces are more decomposed and do not provide as much fodder to the ecosystem where they are deposited, i.e. less substance from which other species can derive metabolic benefit when compared with horses and their contribution. Thus, wild-horse-containing ecosystems can have richer soils that retain more moisture and more intact seeds of a greater variety of plant species that germinate in more humus-rich soils. Truly, a wild-horse-containing ecosystem can be an enhanced, more species-rich ecosystem – even in Australia where the brumbies can benefit many native species of plants and animals as well, i.e. those that have evolved here for a lot longer than the horses, yet find mutual beneficial companionship with horses, as our own human species had done.
Whether in Australia, North America, or wherever, another great contribution by wild horses concerns their prevention of major catastrophic wildfires. And it may be no mere coincidence that in Australia’s Kosciusko and Snowy Mountains national parks the major wildfire that destroyed ca. 70% of their forests came right after a major and violent removal of the brumbies, including through cruel aerial shooting. And the same patterns have occurred here in western North America, for example the ca. 330,000-acre wildfire that scorched so much of the Twin Peaks wild horse and wild burro Herd Management Area in northeastern California and northwestern Nevada in August and September of 2012 came two years after a massive helicopter roundup of ca. 2,500 of the HMA’s wild horses and burros. The Red Rock wild horse and burro HMA (BLM) and Territory (US Forest Service) in southern Nevada has a similar story to tell (see George Knapp’s film documentary “Stampede to Oblivion”). No one at the Australian ecological conference would deny that the wild horses help to prevent catastrophic fires. And now more than ever, this is a major consideration because of Global Climate Change, or Warming. This threatens life as we know it and is being particularly felt in Australia whose customary wildfires are becoming more extreme and extensive than ever. No society is immune. All of us must better heed the challenge to reverse today’s life-threatening trends, beginning with own individual lifestyles and impacts. As they have done so many times before, surely the horses can again lend us and all life a real helping hand. Indeed, as before, their help could prove crucial.
Poco agrees. He was present again in a dream right after the first night of my pro-wild-horse poster defense at the ecological conference in Alice Springs. Before, Poco was always alone, but this time he was accompanied by a bright chestnut colt. I was good to see Poco with his son, as having a family was not in his cards during his earthly life, and this I share with him. Basically Poco and company showed up to wish me well and to let me know they approved of my sticking up for their kind. Dreams are important! Pay attention to them, for they can contain messages from the higher life that restore one’s perspective and give crucial guidance. So thank you, Poco for letting me know I am on the right trail.
Equid advocates must persevere and not buckle under when it comes to their right to live in natural freedom upon the land! Greater truth and justice favor the wild horses and burros. They evolved in North America by far more than on any other continent; and their mutually beneficial symbioses (ways of living together) with other species of plants and animals have been millions of years in the making. In so many places, a wild horse/burro-containing ecosystem is a restored and enhanced ecosystem, and North America is their evolutionary cradle.
We must not overly compromise with those who denigrate these animals because of narrow-minded selfishness. These animals are legally, morally, and ecologically justified to inhabit ecosystems where they have a time-honored place, and this includes so much of the West! We must persist in our assertion that the public lands ranchers learn to share the land and grazing resources, water and shelter, etc., with the wild horses and burros, and these must be restored. It is biologically proven that these post-gastric, semi-nomadic herbivores balance out and complement the ruminant herbivores (deer, sheep, bison, etc.) and help them to thrive. Let’s possess the courage of our convictions and not succumb to pressures to conform to benighted attitudes, however these seem to prevail. This is a crucial test!
And let’s not mess with the reproductive systems of the wild horses and burros! By far most of their populations on the public lands are not at viable levels, not even the substandard standard of 150 individuals that the BLM often recommends. Only about a third of the Appropriate Management Levels (AMLs) set by BLM and U.S. Forest Service on ca. 200 HMAs and Territories provide for 150 individuals – and not one herd has an AML of 2,500 individuals, which is the level recommended by the world’s leading authorities on equid survival in the wild (Duncan 1992, IUCN Species Survival Commission Equid Specialist Group, Switzerland). Of the 88-million acres that US Geological Survey recognized as having wild horses and burros in 1971, throughout eleven western states, the BLM and US Forest Service plan on allowing only ca. 26 million acres for only ca. 26,000 highly fragmented and over-fenced wild horses and burros, yet even in these remaining acreages the wild horses are to be marginalized in relation to livestock, mining, hunting and other exploitive interests, contrary to the “principally devoted” core intent of the WFHBA contained in its Section 2 c.
I analyze this in depth in my book. Basically there has been and continues to be perpetrated a conspiracy, a set up for the dysfunction of the herds as natural societies. And this will only lead to their decline and demise if not squarely faced and opposed by those of us who still care! The so-called “powers that be” are ignoring the importance of allowing these equids to naturally and harmoniously adapt to the ecosystems they occupy – which they splendidly do, for returning to their age-old, North American niches. We must not screw around with the reproduction systems of wild horses and burros who are much too low in numbers! This will only lead to their inbreeding and failure to survive in the long run in the world of nature. Not to mention all their frustration and stress, suffering and death resulting from this Dr. Frankenstein-like approach. Natural, including the horses/burros own sexual, selection must be allowed to operate. We humans must not do the selecting if there are to be vigorous wild horse and burro populations in the wild! However, this is precisely what is being planned today through such programs as the intensive and extensive administration of the PZP vaccine on mares in many wild horse herds throughout the West. This domesticates the wild horses and is contrary to the core intent of the Wild Free-Roaming Horses and Burros Act of 1971 – still the law of the land!
Karen Sussman, the president of the International Society for the Preservation of Mustangs and Burros (ISPMB, Wild Horse Annie’s first organization) recognizes this and stands adamantly opposed to the broadscale use of PZP and the tragically low assignment of low Appropriate Management Levels for the BLM Herd Management Areas and US Forest Service Territories. She has studies that dateback for decades to prove her concerns about thwarting the natural reproduction of the distinctive herds. She has articulated these well, as have biologists who have studied ISPMB’s and other wild herds, such as Dr. Cassandra Nunez (see www.ispmb.org). Neither must castrations and ovariectomies (Sheldon NWR wild horses) be allowed for the wild herds. Their horrid consequences are simply not acceptable.
Life has a way of presenting us with crucial choices; and there are times when merely going along with what seems popular or unquestioned – such as blind traditions — is simply wrong! Whether or not to opt for the reproductive manipulation of America’s last beleaguered wild horses and burros is such a choice. Let’s stand firm on getting the herds restored, on getting the legal land that belongs to the wild horses and burros and to the General Public freed up and out of the hands of ruthless exploiters who are driven – and blinded – by unchecked greed!
Reserve Design is the way to go, both now and for the future. As a professional wildlife ecologist, I have presented this repeatedly. It will give the herds their adequate space and appropriate habitat, including forage, water, and shelter for all seasons and their seasonal migrations. It will allow for their semi-nomadic, ecologically healthy lifestyle and for truly viable, not mere token, numbers subject to inbreeding and chance die out – and there is a terrible increase in the illegal capture and killing of the wild horses and burros on the public lands today! I have explained Reserve Design in considerable detail in my recently updated 313-page, illustrated book The Wild Horse Conspiracy (www.amazon.com/dp/1461068983 or through www.thewildhorseconspiracy.org) .
Basically, Reserve Design operates on the time-honored principle that when harmonious animals are allowed to fill their ecological niche in an area, they naturally self-stabilize. And this particularly applies to what ecologists call “climax species” – and both horses and burros are climax species, or members of the more permanent life community. They do not continue to explode in numbers once their niche is filled. If this were the case they would not be the multi-million-year survivors that they are! Think about it.
Reserve Design is the intelligent and caring way to go. It involves the incorporation of natural barriers and where necessary artificial, semi-permeable ones that limit the spread of populations. But the reserve must be sure to contain sufficient space and habitat to support truly long-term viable populations in the thousands, not mere token, showcase herds whose low numbers, or AMLs, are sure prescriptions for decline and extinction! Also natural predators come into play as well as public education and the establishment of buffer zones around the protected wild equid habitats. But most critical of all to the success of Reserve Design is the inculcation of truly positive attitudes toward the wild horses and burros in the wild and a positive win-win approach to establish cooperative agreements with neighboring communities that work for the benefit of both the wild horses and burros and the people who live around them. The people can become ecotour guides and hosts, monitors and protectors for the wild equids and their habitats. I have seen such turn-arounds in South America, and there is no reason this cannot occur here in North America. Where there is a positive will and an inspiring vision for what life may yet become there is surely a way!
Reserve Design is not my invention, but has been employed for centuries, even thousands of years. I studied about its finer points at the universities I have attended and have employed it in helping to save the endangered Mountain/Andean Tapir. Reserve Design fulfills the true and core intent of the Wild Free-Roaming Horses and Burros Act (WFHBA). It is true to the spirit of this noble promise on the part of Americans to honor the integrity and place of horses and burros upon the public lands ecosystems where they were found in 1971 and with minimum interference and an assurance of preserving and restoring their true vigor and long-term survival in the wild. For it is in the wild that the true vigor of the species is preserved, both now and for future times. And this will honor the age-old continuum, including all past, present, and future, to which each moment in all beings’ universal and interrelated experience belongs.
The WFHBA is a noble act and promise. It is noble because it is humanity’s expressed will to truly honor another species and to provide sufficient natural and healthy land and freedom so that this species can truly be itself, prove its truer reason and role amid the panoply of all the vast and various beings and kinds of life on Earth. Lest we forget, we humans owe one enormous debt of gratitude to horses and burros, for we would not be where we are today were it not for their amazing and extraordinarily patient collaboration. So I ask you: what better way is there of repaying these noble animals than simply providing them with sufficient natural land and habitat wherein they can resume their age-old course according to their own unique and indispensable character? In other words, allow them a place, a world, where we people learn to truly share, that is to say, to act lovingly in order to allow these wonderful animals, companions, and co-evolvers throughout the centuries and millennia, to fully and truly realize themselves, their own special destiny – to be in the highest sense of the word: FREE!