The Culling Of Alberta’s Wild Horses by Lisa Lewis

The last few weeks I have seen a lot of articles about the plight of the Canadian Wild Horse come across my newsfeed. The one thing that really piqued my interest was this video:


Hearing a government official say that there are no predators in the Canadian Wilderness really made me want to look a little deeper.

What I’ve gathered is this:

The government believes that Alberta’s free-ranging horses are descendants of domestic horses used in logging, guiding and outfitting operations in the 1900’s. They have been labeled an invasive species, feral domestic animals. It seems they have come to this conclusion because the horses were not discovered out there until the 1920’s.

Advocates for the horses say nobody knows when the horses arrived and they could have been there much longer considering nearly 40 years later in 1959 a herd of 200 Wood Bison were discovered in Northern Alberta. Up until then the Wood Bison were thought to be extinct. Advocates for these horses say that preliminary michrochondiral DNA testing of captured Alberta Horses have shown that they are direct descendants of colonial spanish mustangs and and further testing should be done to investigate their evolutionary history in Alberta.

However, I have come across an article written by D.Phillip Sponenberg, DVM, PhD the interesting part is this paragraph:

Recently some conservationists have mistakenly concluded that Iberian blood type variants can be the basis for deciding which horses of a population are more (or less) Spanish in origin. Due to the inheritance pattern of these markers it is easily possible for an absolutely pure Colonial Spanish Horse to have missed inheriting any of the Iberian markers. It is likewise possible for a crossbred horse to have inherited several. A carefully selected Quarter Horse, for example, could easily have a preponderance of Iberian markers. A conservation program based heavily on blood types without considering other factors could then easily exclude the very horses whose conservation is important, and could include some that should have been excluded. Therefore, conformation type is a more important factor than blood type or DNA type, and will always remain so. It is impossible to determine the relative percentage of Spanish breeding in a horse through blood typing or DNA typing, at least currently.

That’s right, their conformation could be the only way to tell. Their conformation could potentially prove how long they have been there and give them the right to be called a wild horse versus a feral horse.

But I have my doubts that the origin of these horses will ever matter. The fact is they are getting in the way of big business. Alberta’s top 3 industries are: Oil and gas, logging, and cattle. All of which make these horses a nuisance. Alberta’s Environment and Sustainable Resource Development Department (ESRD) claims the horses interfere with responsible forestry practices, ranchers complain they eat grass meant for cattle and they get in the way of the oil and gas pipeline workers.

The ESRD maintains the horses are also hindering the grazing of the cloven hooved animals such as deer and elk. The horses advocates say it is a fact that the animals with small cloven hooves are known to follow the horses with big paddle like hooves, perfect for digging in the snow.

The government is going ahead with the cull even though they are using numbers taken from before the major flooding in Alberta last year and the unusually large amount of snow this winter, things that cull the horses naturally.

Take a moment to look through the albums of photographer Duane Starr:

He’s captured some amazing photos. I find myself completely amazed by these creatures. I know that there is not a horse in my barn that would survive a week out there. Trying to move through the belly deep snow alone would do all mine in, let alone try to forage for food in it. I cant help but look at their physical bodies, wondering. They are untouched by the fads and whims of people, no human for many generations if at all has decided bone ratios or joint placements. I really think these horses are quite unique, I can’t think of a harsher environment to shape these horses than the foothills of the Canadian Rockies, strictly survival of the fittest and healthiest. My favorite is the White Spirit Band, unfortunately he is really close to a capture pen in the Williams Creek Area. I’m holding my breath waiting to see who stays and who goes.

Ken McLeod is out in the Alberta wilderness and sharing his pictures and experiences on his Facebook page for all.


32 thoughts on “The Culling Of Alberta’s Wild Horses by Lisa Lewis

  1. I’d like to ask these people (and the ones in the US that are trying to get rid of our “protected” mustangs,
    When did horses disappear from this continent?
    What happened about that time? (and affected other animals on this continent at that time)
    Who is wild and who is feral now?

  2. Thanks Lisa for bringing this to our attention and putting it together. It always annoys me at the audacity of people and governments wanting to control the population of other species when we can’t even control our own. Not only that, but we’ve decimated many populations of species. A few hundred feral horses in Alberta wilderness, herd size being controlled by Mother Nature, requires *our* intervention, really?

    • The most overpopulated living things on earth are humans and we’re the ones destroying everything in our path – at blinding speed. These horses certainly aren’t running low on kibble which tells me there is plenty to eat for them and though I’ve never traveled to Alberta but there is apparently plenty of space for all. People don’t seem happy anymore unless they’re controlling every single thing they can get their eyes on. Makes me ill.

    • Quite so REALLY this isnt reality at all <<>> killing horses is easy compared to feeding starving nations……makes my blood boil !! full stop. We have problems with abandoned horses now in the uk and they are being rounded up and sent to the knackers if people don’t rescue them. I blame irresponsible ownership in Great britain… all very well until the horse goes lame/sick or is no longer any use to them. Rather than doing the correct thing and having them euthanized they abandon them on roads much as they do their dogs and cats ! They themselves ought to be ought to be killed as what useful purpose do uncaring humans serve on this overcrowded planet ??? man’s inhumanity to man and God’s creatures. he must despair at what man is doing to his creation……

  3. Thanks for posting it! I really wish they’d leave them alone I’m wondering how they are going to affect the genetic diversity by taking entire herds. Just something that should be left to mother nature, she’s done just fine by them for 90 some years.

  4. Please help the Alberta wild horses by signing this petition and/or emailing the Alberta Goveronment.

    You can also contact the following:
    Alberta Sustainable Resource
    Development Department

    Honourable Alison Redford,
    Premier of Alberta

    Honourable Robin Campbell,
    Minister of Environment & Sustainable Resource Development

  5. Emotion and fantasy. The reality is that we cannot stomach the culling of these herds because we love this particular animal. Nature is not kind, and leaving the cull up to the whims of Mother Nature is doing just fine by them? Maybe we, as humans, have a responsibility to the type of fate these domestic animals will face. There is nothing natural about loose horses in Alberta. They are feral, not wild, and if we want to be stewards we need to realize the tremendous effect of any invasive species (yes including ourselves) on the ecosystem. I only wish that “typical” animal lovers had half this passion for species that are truly victims of the travesty of prairie habitat destruction such as the swift fox, or black footed ferret. They deserved to be fought for, vehemently.

    • It was a mere blink of an eye (in geologic terms) before horses returned to this continent. I do not consider them invasive.

    • the point of the outrage ought to be that they aren’t culling to benefit the indigenous species, but to further exploit the ecosystem for people. Real habitat preservation doesn’t involve cattle, oil, fracking of natural gas, etc. So while I think culling the wild horses (which if Spanish, might have been there 400 plus years) in reasonable ways might be acceptable if we were creating protected wilderness, reintroducing local species, restoring forest and flora, reintroducing apex predators, etc.

      And nature isn’t kind, but in some ways, way smarter than us. She probably should be doing the culling.

      • Nature isn’t smart; she is random, and relentless. She creates amazing adaptation and diversity. If she were conscious, omnipotent, and “smart,” she’d have done a much better job at culling humans.

        I’d be a hypocrite if I spoke out against the horse cull for the plain reason that I’m unwilling to put my money where my mouth is, and take in these horses. These are horses that are there for anthropogenic reasons only. I also feel that the wolf cull in Northern BC is much, much more unjust, and unwarranted, and I allot my energies accordingly.

        • To be fair, Nature has swung some mighty hard blows at humans over the centuries and continues to do so. Our response to some of those swings has been to evolve our medicines and technologies. There are many who believe we’re on the clock with Nature and time is running out really fast unless we make some really drastic changes in our lives like renewable energy and sustainable transport. Neither of us is likely to be around to see who ‘wins’ the epic battle being played out on this planet, but my money isn’t on us, though I’m trying to do my part.

        • I spend my money on people in the US where I live to fight wolf culls, endangered ecosystems threatened by drilling, etc.

          Mother Nature obviously doesn’t even exist, I merely borrowed your metaphor. And she is random in the sense of millions of experiments until something becomes successful for its ecosystem. She also is random in that she doesn’t choose how to restore balance. But she’s working on humans, anyone who looks at what is happening with climate change can see it coming. We soon may have trouble feeding ourselves, not just because of petty political issues that starves some while food producing ability is wasted, but because what we eat and where we grow it is on a thin edge and about to go over into decimation. The only sad part is how many species we take with us. But nature will have new winners to fill in the gaps, and in geologic time, balance will return.

  6. Not fantasy at all, but plenty of emotion yes 🙂 Taking 25% out in one swoop is not bettering for anybody. If they were even targeting small bachelor groups there would probably be less uproar. But the fact is that they are taking a large chunk of the population when they don’t even have an accurate count. They are using their #’s that are nearly a year old. There’s been things happen this year that should demand a recount before any cull. They want 169 taken out of Williams Creek, the daily counts from the advocates this week has not topped 68, that means everybody from that area is going to go. There are 40 already hanging around the bait station. Out of that 40 there are only 3 yearlings, that should be a red flag that Mother Nature has already been unkind this year.

    Mother Nature is kind some years and cruel others. And it’s the way of life for the horses they haven’t known anything else. Nobody is going hungry out there or suffering great lengths of time. There are predators, the horses on Sable Island are the only group of horses known to have none, those horses suffer. The University of Alberta reports that one 180 pound cougar ate 17 horses this year, but even at that he’s not wiping out entire bloodlines. Diversity will keep them healthy.

    It doesn’t matter if they are invasive or not. The fact is that they are there and have been there nearly 100 years and at this point and if the government wants to interfere they need to put a little more effort into it. There’s been genetisists offering to help with contraception. Nobody would be opposed to that. But having a hillbilly show up with some salt blocks, hay and trailer doesn’t sit right.

    This is a small group of under 1000 horses that have evolved in a really tough environment for almost 100 years. All the aspects of this animal that we love and are passionate about are genetic. We’ve messed with them and given them all these issues, flaws and ailments. Anybody can breed a horse, the market is flooded with low end horses. We all have a horse with issues. So to see a group like this ship for meat is slightly disturbing. If they feel the need to lower the numbers then they should plan ahead, research and do it properly. After this long out there those horses deserve it.

    • No one is suffering out there? Do you know what kills feral horses, or how long they take to succumb? How do you know that there is no hunger or suffering out there if there are only 3 yearlings? Have you seen many natural deaths? I have, and they are largely drawn out and horrible.

      It certainly DOES matter if they are invasive or not.

      • Horses are prey animals, in a natural balanced state, herds would be kept in balance with their predators. I repeat, horses are not invasive.

  7. Well said Lisa! In my honest opinion all of the people behind this cull, both government and permit holders are nothing more than common horse theives and should be dealt with as such!

  8. Those broad chests in the linked photos suggest that the Nokota route – promoting history while embracing the influence of other bloodlines – might be the more likely way to go. (e.g., )

    Sticking with Dr. Phil, here’s a brief summary of typical Colonial Spanish conformation –

    (Click “Introduction” on that site for a broad history written by Dr. Deb, who is a historian and a fan of Colonial Spanish horses as well as her more typically applicable here role as conformation expert. The Colonial Spanish folks put that little site together back when Hidalgo came out, starring a Paint rather than a Spanish Mustang.)

    Are there no wolves or other large predators in that part of Alberta?

    My Texas bred Colonial Spanish/App crosses have no trouble whatsoever re: digging through snow to get to grass remnants since we moved north. Tho their Arab herd mates are also quite capable. They’re all getting far too much opportunity to practice this winter.

    • I wondered too about predators. The article said there were none, and runlittlefox made mention of their being wolf population problems (if I’m remembering correctly).

      I’m not understanding just how many of these horses that there are. And there doesn’t seem to be any mention of their herd growth rates. Who’s been out there studying these herds and gathering the data? And what exactly is that data?

      Certainly Man is a predator for these horses, but what IS the cat and wolf population in these areas. Have those populations been decimated by Man already and that’s allowed these horses to become a ‘nuisance’ to local businesses? If so, that says to me there’s a bigger problem and that the population of the horse predators needs to be addressed as much as an over population of the horses (if an over population actually exists – which I’m entirely unclear if that’s the case or not).

    • @banjocat – I trashed your duplicate post. When someone includes links in their comments, the site automatically puts them in ‘waiting for approval’, even if that poster has previously been okayed by me for automatic posting. It’s an extra precaution. You should see the amount of spam postings these sites get. Sorry for any confusion. It seems a programming glitch that you aren’t getting the ‘waiting for moderation’ note.

  9. the “wolf problem” mentioned was the decision by the B.C. government to cull wolves – because they were “causing problems to ranchers”, and were “over-populated”- a situation that seems similar to the proposed horse cull. Also similar were the varying estimates of population, opinions of the need for the cull, and scientific data to back it all up. It was no real surprise when the “accepted science” all favoured the government’s position and the proposal was quickly put through. … and I imagine that is exactly the scenario that is happening in Alberta.

    • I believe we have the same problem in the U.S. Wolves were reintroduced, ranchers became upset, and once again the dominant predator, man, intervened. Since we were also supposedly blessed with larger brains, you think we could realize that we depend on the natural world to survive. Some scientists believe that this planet is once again going through a massive extinction.

      • It is generally accepted amongst ecologists that there is a mass extinction happening, which has little do to with the plight of a thousand introduced horses.

        I do not agree that there is a wolf “problem.” but there is no bag limit on wolves in Alberta, and a couple of years ago, BC offered a bounty on wolves near Prince George. I, personally, have a major problem with the culling of wolves.

        I do not have a problem with the culling of horses.

        The male cougar that ate 17 horses was used earlier in this thread as an example of successful predation. This is a misrepresentation. The entire quotation from the article “Plan to cull 200 wild horses triggers debate” in the Calgary Herald on January 30, 2014 is as follows:

        “Cougars in particular can be very good predators of horses, especially male cougars,” said Mark Boyce, a University of Alberta biologist who has studied cougars in the area for 10 years. “We had one large male, a 180-pound male, that in one year killed 17 wild horses, five elk, four moose and only two deer.”

        But, similar to the province, he suggested it’s not enough to control the numbers.

        “The population of horses continues to grow,” said Boyce, who believes there’s no good reason to keep the animals on the landscape. “They are an invasive exotic that doesn’t belong in that ecosystem and we are not managing them for any particular purpose.

        “We are managing them because people like horses. Horses have their place as a domestic animal, but they don’t belong on our wildlife ranges.”

        • I have a problem with a person who thinks they know best what does or does not ‘belong on our wildlife ranges’, when they are so clearly bias. Labelling feral horses as an ‘invasive exotics’, but not labelling those ‘rancher’s cows’ as ‘invasive exotics’ is at the very best an interesting opinion, but mostly it’s straight up crap.

          We certainly think we know what’s best. I’d say it’s certain we don’t.

          BTW, Mr. Boyce, I happen to like wolves quite a lot, ranking right up there with horses. So you see, sir, people like wolves too.

          • I was simply putting the comment made about the cougar back into the context of what was actually said.

            Mr. Boyce never mentioned wolves. I also see no bias in what he said since he never mentioned cows either.

            If there is an argument that a thousand horses outcompete several million stock animals for grazing lands, that is absolute crap indeed.

          • Yes, I understood the context, I was connecting the dots. If a biologist is going to label feral horses as invasive exotics, then he (and everyone else using his input on this subject) better be labelling the cattle also as invasive exotics. Fair is fair.

            So how about we cull those feral horses AND cull those cattle AND cull those oil animals AND all those others who are laying claim to the invasive nature of these feral horses? Then the wilderness can be left to the cougars and the wolves and other native species. That works for me.

  10. Runlittlefox, Excellent and well argued posts.

    I absolutely get what you’re saying and in entirety.

    It’s a nice idea that they can live without interference or any management and because they’re an indigenous and wild species.

    But that’s all it is.

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