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.