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LI woman works to save wild mustangs headed for slaughter

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LI woman works to save wild mustangs headed for slaughter

Today's wild mustangs are native to North America, not heirs of Spanish conquistadors' mounts, according to a Locust Valley rescuer who says new DNA research should help save them from being slaughtered by the thousands in Mexico and Canada.

Manda Kalimian said a soon-to-be-published study reveals the horses did not go extinct — as long believed — but instead were alive as recently as 5,000 years ago. She hopes this finding will help reverse policies partly based on their misclassification as an invasive species that can be eradicated.

This study should speed fundamental reforms, she said, in what she and other critics regard as the Bureau of Land Management's deeply flawed way of managing the herds: rounding them up, penning them, adopting small numbers out — and then failing to ensure they are not soon sold for slaughter.

What to know

  • As of March 2020, there were 80,000 wild horses on 26.9 million acres, down from 53.8 million in 1971. The federal government said land set aside for mustangs was not taken away, but rather could not be managed because, for example, it was too intermingled with private land.
  • As of June 2021, 50,300 wild horses were being held in corrals.
  • As of fiscal 2021, it cost $118 million to care for herds, up 81% from 2010.
Sources: U.S. Bureau of Land Management, Government Accountability Office, Congressional Research Service. 

Kalimian's nonprofit helped pay for some initial DNA research done by the University of California Santa Cruz. It did not fund the new study done at McMaster University in Hamilton, Ontario, but will support a post-doctoral position for a researcher there.

Scientists previously deduced wild horses and other large mammals that migrated between Alaska and Russia on a Bering Strait land bridge all died off about 10,000 years ago — when the fossil record ends — from still not wholly understood reasons.

Yet DNA samples from Yukon sediments in research done by scientific advisors to CANA reveal horses and other species lived as recently as 5,000 years ago.

"We’ve found genetic evidence for the late persistence of mammoths, steppe bison, and horses surviving for thousands of years longer than fossils like bones and teeth would suggest," said Tyler Murchie, a postdoctoral fellow at McMaster University. He said his research is under review for publication in the journal Nature Communications.

"If horses did persist in the Yukon, until 5,000 or 6,000 years ago, it would seem to imply they are Native American horses," Murchie said.

Hendrik Poinar, a McMaster anthropology professor working with Murchie, said: "The real interesting question… is to flesh out between 1,000 and 5,000 years ago … who hung around and for how long."

He added: "Now, we have been humbled by the evidence."

Kalimian, a Long Island native and lifelong rider, has her own 16-acre farm, which she says is a "re-wilding" showcase, where native plants and insects all flourish — along with her mustangs — because fertilizers and pesticides are banned. She says wild horses will help preserve grasslands.

"The horse plays an integral role in our native systems, the natural order of things," she said. "I see that every day, here on my farm, in the way I manage my horses — so what I’ve done is, as I’ve worked to bring this solution forward, which of course could not be more necessary with this climate crisis and the pandemic we are in."

Fifty years ago, Congress enacted the "Wild Free-Roaming Horses and Burros Act," calling them "living symbols of the historic and pioneer spirit of the West." The U.S. in 2004 banned slaughtering horses for people to eat; slaughterhouses here shut a decade later after their meat inspections were ended.

But advocates say, farmers, miners, oil drillers, and protections for native species, crowd too many horses on too little public land — while private companies pay too little for the land they lease. The bureau, charged with their care, for decades has experimented with birth control, still seen as too costly or unworkable. Paying adopters $1,000 per horse backfired, they say, after it failed to stop them from being resold for slaughter outside the U.S.

Said Dr. Doug Antczak, a Cornell University professor of equine medicine: "They multiply at a high rate and many do not have happy lives."

The West's drought and almost unstoppable wildfires may only intensify land wars. Industry and trade groups note their products are essential and aren't always compatible with wild horses.

National Cattlemen's Beef Association Director of Natural Resources Kaitlynn Glover said by email: "The conflict is not between horses and cattle — the conflict is between overpopulated horse herds and everything else that wants to live on that range. Overpopulated horse herds create a monoculture, in which many don’t survive and nothing thrives."

Just last month, the U.S. Geological Service warned that unless herds of wild horses are reduced, populations of the greater sage-grouse, a native species, could drop 70% in those areas.

But Kalimian said mustangs should be honored as an ancient and integral part of the West — and one that can help fight climate change if given the grasslands to do so.

"This country was built on the back of a horse," she said. "Our horses need to step back in and lead the way in rebuilding the grassland — and all the community horses bring and build around them; we will be physically and mentally healthier."

Manda's book, Born to Rewild—Triumphs of a Now Fearless Woman will be officially released October 1, 2021. Pre-order here

Comments 5

  1. Your article appears to be positive towards wild horses but you included statements from Dr. Doug Antczac and Kaitlynn Glover of the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association along with a couple of other statements that are negative to the wild horse without explaining the purpose of including such statements. If you are simply trying to be neutral, it would be less confusing if the article had included a statement explaining that those are some of the arguments from opponents of protecting the wild horses as native, along with the statement that there is evidence that contradicts their opinions, or at least a statement explaining that there are others who dispute those opinions. Otherwise, your article comes across as being contradictive because the statements appear to be statements of fact rather than someone’s biased opinions. I am especially angered by Dr. Antczac’s statement of opinion that “They multiply at a high rate and many do not have happy lives” because there is evidence that not all herds have a high birth rate and that many herds have very happy lives. I am also angered by Ms. Glover’s statement which suggests that the wild horses are overpopulated, but I simply do not trust the word of anyone connected with a cattlemen’s association because of a conflict of interest. The cattle ranchers are some of the biggest supporters of removing all wild horses so that they have more room for their cattle, so naturally they would be apt to create myths of wild horse overpopulations and other misstatements against the wild horses. So, what is your point in including random statements from those who oppose the wild horses in an article that initially gives us hope for something solid to argue for in our attempts to prevent cattle ranchers and our own government from irradicating the wild horses from our range? The bottom line is that, while I was excited to read about the finding of possible DNA evidence showing that horses may be native, I was then disapointed to read the negative remarks about the wild horses. The article would have been sufficient without the statements from those opposed to protecting the wild horses. If you want to discuss the statements from those who oppose the wild horses, please put that in an article separate from an article that suggests that there is evidence showing that horses are native to America, or, at the very least, explain it better in the article that those are opposing views and that not everyone agrees with them.

  2. Joan Gralla – Congratulations on your new book. I will be sure to add it to my reading list. I’m in total agreement with you about the necessity to my the musty wild on the range on their land. After all this country was built on their backs and the great World Wars were won with them sacrificing I think 1 million lives. I hope we get a chance to talk one day.

  3. The scientific community has known about our Mustangs being native to the American continent. When the very institute’s they did the research on are funded by the government that has been dehumanizing and de-culturizing the indigenous peoples from the very beginning, those research articles are biased. Within the cited material is the answer to that. Jansen et.al had available for the mitochondrial DNA testing over 600 samples from Mustangs from the American continent. Those samples were more closely associated with the Ancient horse samples taken from the Asian steppes and closely associated with the wild horses from the Eurasian steppes.
    Art work also shows the indigenous peoples riding horses when European colonists first came to the American continent as depicted in an engraving I found online done in the early 1600s.
    Then there are accounts of the Spanish seeing wild horses off the banks of North Carolina, and the English captain who sailed off the coast of Washington State and Oregon as far south as California and seen wild horses. There is the account of Joseph LaVerendre who wrote about visiting with the indigenous peoples called the “horse people ” that was 40 years before the Pueblo revolt.
    The Pueblo revolt is claimed to be the start of the wild herds, which is false because no horses were left in the Spanish settlement because of the famine in that area.
    The account written by the Coronado expedition also had issues with starvation, do you really think any of the original horses they started out with didn’t get eaten? So who supplied the explorers with horses? In the art work for that period you see Coronado on a white horse, then later on he is on a Bay horse that is obviously upset with the bit in its mouth and Coronado is being led by a person on foot. That account tells of Coronado falling off his horse. More likely he was bucked off. Sounds like a coldbacked Mustang to me. Also in the Coronado account is the explorers having a tornado go through their encampment and injured many of the horses. Yet they still seemed to find horses to get back to Mexico. The account also tells of the indigenous peoples hunting Bison. Do you really think they did that on foot? Look what happens to tourists when they visit Yellowstone and get to close to the Bison.
    Another resource for seeing that horses were here before the Europeans came is in the pedigrees of the breeds that were developed here. The Saddlebred is a breed that the Narragansett Pacer was used as a foundation. That was a indigenous peoples horse. In the pedigrees you can see the deception when they put Saddlebred for a breed of the mare who has no back history.
    The Thoroughbreds that were bred in the United States show mare’s with no back history, those are mare’s that were indigenous to the American continent.
    The Mustangs on public lands have always been a target for ranchers to remove. The ranchers helped with the extinction of the Bison, the extinction of the wolves.
    The horses have no predators to help keep the population in check like the Alberta wildies do. That population of horses is in a decline.
    It takes a year of gestation before a mare has a foal, not really a big population booster when the mortality rate of new born foals is high, even in domestic horses.
    Good luck with your book

  4. The statements by Antczac and Glover are opinions or propaganda with absolutely no basis in fact and no investigation in the article as to the veracity of their claims. Meanwhile, all the statements in support of keeping horses on the range are supported by scientific studies. I’m so tired of anti mustang sentiments being accepted as true – horses don’t reproduce like rabbits, they are preyed on -mainly by mountain lions, not only are they a keystone species, actually improving the land they are living in but are also a climax species – meaning that when environments can’t support growing numbers mares stop carrying foals to term.

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