When you think about horses, maybe you think of the "wild, wild West." On the poster, you'll find some of my wild western neighhh-bors. Bet you can almost hear the beat of their hooves thundering across the wide-open plains. What could be wilder than that? Well, we mustangs aren't the only wild horses in the world. Check it out!
Me, an everyday barn animal? Hah, that's a laugh! I'm a free-roaming mustang and proud of it. Hoof on over to the attached pull-out poster to learn a thing or two about . . .
THE REAL WILD BUNCH
Sure, the mustangs on the other side of this poster are wild now. But they came from animals that were once tame.
True wild horses have always been wild and free--never tamed. Most kinds are now extinct. But there are still a few left. For example, everyone knows about the wild horses famous for their black and white stripes (see front cover of the magazine). They are ZEBRAS, of course. Three different species (kinds) of zebras roam the African plains.
Donkey-like horses called asses can get by with only a little food and water. That helps these wild horses survive in the harsh desert areas where they live. The African wild ass at right lives in Somalia, in East Africa. Other kinds of wild asses live in the Middle East and in some parts of Asia.
The shaggy creatures below are named for Nickolai Przewalski (pur-zhuh- VAHL- skee). He was an explorer who found these unusual horses in Asia in the late 1800s. Back then, most of the world didn't even know they existed.
Like many other rare animals, the small wild herds of Przewalski's horses began to disappear. Luckily, scientists had bred and raised a bunch in zoos around the world. That saved the species from becoming extinct. Now they have set some of the zoo horses free in Asia. So far, the new herds are doing great.
WALK ON THE WILD SIDE
Spanish explorers brought horses with them long ago when they first came to North America. Some of those tame horses later escaped and some were just turned loose. Many of them banded together in groups and learned to live in the wild.
Today's mustangs came from those early American visitors. But there are many other breeds of horses--both big and small--running free around the world.
You can call them wild horses, but scientists usually call them feral (FAIR-ul) horses. That means they live wild now but didn't start out that way.
You may have heard of tiny Shetland ponies. They're popular riding ponies. But some of them, such as the mare and foal at left, roam free on the Shetland Islands of Scotland.
The British Isles have more feral breeds, such as the Connemara ponies of Ireland, the Welsh mountain ponies of Wales, and the New Forest ponies of England. Ponies live wild on some North American islands too, off the coasts of Nova Scotia and the mid-Atlantic states.
Wild burros, such as the one below, live mostly in the western and southwestern United States. Check out those big ears and face markings. They're good clues that burros are related to the wild asses living in Africa. Many "wild" burros came from tame burros, or donkeys, that were turned loose during the old gold-mining days of the 1800s.
THE TROUBLE WITH MUSTANGS
Mustangs and tame horses lead different lives. Mustangs travel about in search of their own food. They huddle together in the cold or seek shelter in canyons. If they get sick or injured, there's no one to help them. They belong to nobody.
Many people think that mustangs, such as the battling stallions below, are an important part of American history. Other people think they take over places where they don't really belong.
These feral animals now roam the land where wild animals such as mule deer, pronghorn, and bighorn sheep have always lived. Some ranchers graze sheep and cattle there too. Sometimes there just isn't enough food and space for all of them.
Mustang herds often get way too big. That's mainly because there aren't as many wolves, mountain lions, or other horse-eating predators as there once were. So more foals live to become adults, and the herds keep growing.
People used to kill some of the horses, but that's against the law now. In certain areas, people capture some and move them or put them up for "adoption." In other areas, scientists are trying birth control on some mares to keep them from having more babies. But all that can be a lot of trouble and cost a lot too.
Mustangs aren't the only troublemakers. Feral horses in any part of the world can cause problems for native wildlife (wild animals that live naturally in a certain place). It's tricky finding room for all to roam.
Ranger Rick TM Poster
C 2000 National Wildlife Federation