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In a case before a US federal court they are arguing that wild horses should no longer be rounded up to make room for cattle. If the claim is successful, it could change the way the US Bureau of Land Management (BLM) manages tens of thousands of wild horses on federal lands.
"Right now, the BLM treats them as if they are a nuisance or livestock. They deserve more respect than that," says Rachel Fazio, the lawyer representing In Defense of Animals and other plaintiffs in the suit.
In the plaintiffs' favour, there is no doubt that North America is the ancestral home of horses. The horse family evolved there, and it is almost certain that the modern species, Equus caballus, was present in North America for almost 1.5 million years before dying out about 10,000 years ago.
On the other hand, today's wild horses are the feral descendants of domestic horses from Europe, with a 6000-year history of domestication. Whether these horses can be considered truly native thus hinges on whether a few millennia of foreign domestication are enough to "spoil" 1.4 million years of native evolution. Animal rights groups are adamant that they are not, but the BLM's website labels as "false" any claim that the horses can be considered native.
Plaintiffs: In Defense of Animals , Dreamcatcher Wild Horse and Burro Sanctuary , Barbara Clarke , Chad Hanson and Linda Hay
Defendants: United States Department of the Interior, Bureau of Land Management, Ken Salazar, Robert Abbey and Dayne Barron
Case Number: 2:2010cv01852
Filed: July 15, 2010
Court: California Eastern District Court
Office: Sacramento Office
jr,: Morrison C. England
Referring Judge: Dale A. Drozd
Nature of Suit: Other Statutes - Environmental Matters
Jurisdiction: U.S. Government Defendant
Jury Demanded By: Plaintiff
Myth #11: Wild horses are native to the United States.
Fact: This claim is false. American wild horses are descended from domestic horses, some of which were brought over by European explorers in the late 15th and 16th centuries, plus others that were imported from Europe and were released or escaped captivity in modern times. These horses have adapted successfully to the Western range, but biologically they did not evolve on the North American continent. The disappearance of the horse from the Western Hemisphere for 10,000 years supports the position that today's wild horses cannot be considered "native" in any meaningful historical sense.
Another breed that probably contributed to the blood of the Mustang is the old-type East Friesian. For a period of over 10 years during the late 1800s and early 1900s about 150 stallions each year were purchased by the U.S. government from Germany. The old-style East Friesian of that time was a heavy warmblood or coach horse and was purchased to pull artillery or heavy wagons. So wherever the US calvary was found in battles in the west these horses were found, and undoubtedly some escaped and added their blood to that of the American Mustang. Source
Most Mustangs are of the light horse or warmblood type. Horses of draft conformation are kept on separate ranges. The coat color is the full range of colors found in horses. While the Spanish blood has been diluted, many of the horses still exhibit Spanish characteristics. There has been a firmly held belief for several decades that there were no pure Spanish-type horse remaining on the ranges of the wild horse. But in recent years a few small herds have been found in very isolated areas which have been found through blood testing to be strongly decended from Spanish breeding. Among these are the Kiger and Cerat Mustangs.Source