The Politics of Wild and Free: European and Asian Wild Horses Share American Mustangs' Iconic Status and Sensitive Issues

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Today's blog post might challenge your memory from geography class back in your school days. But when geography place names you haven't heard in a while mix with horse breeds whose names you can't pronounce, it's bound to be interesting, so I hope you can find a few minutes in your busy day to watch this video.

It might be about a place far from here, but just wait and see if you don't hear some familiar issues being raised.

The video is a mini-documentary produced by the French television network France 24. They focused on the problems facing both a wild horse advocate in Romania and what some would call wild horse "victims" there; both are uncannily parallel to the situation in the United States.

Just as I flinch when I hear about the wild horse culls in the Australian Outback, I was a bit skeptical when I heard about a preserve for wild horses in the marshes of Europe's Danube River. Romania? But as more and more films and articles from different places in the world are brought to my attention, I become more convinced that there's not just a US crisis for wild horses but a global crisis. And the issues line up in nice straight rows. Even the United Nations isn't much help to the horses in the Danube delta.

A photo-filled blog post from Asia brought this thought full-circle for me today. Australian Robyn Hepburn shared her observation of a completely different type of wild horse sanctuary from the Danube River's. She didn't find the horses in what she considered a perfect situation, but there's no question that they're wild. And wanted.

Robyn found the only wild horses that may be really safe in their habitat: the captive-bred Przewalski's horses (and their recent descendants) that have been released in Mongolia. These odd-looking creatures are the only true "wild" horses and they yet became technically extinct in the wild. When that happened, the only remnants of the breed were tiny herds scattered in zoos around the world. A concerted effort by conservationists turned into a massive public effort to return some of the horses from different zoos to the wild in their native land.

Mongolian Mumbles Blog description of the wild horse preserve in Hustai National Park.

Today, Przewalski's horses seem to be the only wild horses that are out there and wild because humans really want them to be wild. Their wildness can be inconvenient for tourists at Mongolia's horse parks, if they're on a tight schedule. They came to see wild horses: so where are they© Photo by Tomoo.

Today, Przewalski's horses seem to be the only wild horses that are out there and wild because humans really want them to be wild. Their wildness can be inconvenient for tourists at Mongolia's horse parks, if they're on a tight schedule. They came to see wild horses: so where are they© Photo by Tomoo.

In the Przewalski's horses' case, they inhabit places like Hustai National Park as a more-or-less wild population, and the Mongolians seem to be enthusiastic partners in the management plans. Some cynics would say that the wildlife PhDs out-number the horses, but I would wager that only the most dedicated PhDs will want to call Mongolia "home" for very long.

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If you are concerned about the horses in the U.S. West, take the time to watch the Danube River video and read Robyn Hepburn's observations about the Mongolian preserve. Information and alternatives from near and far are critical to finding new ways of approaching the mustang problem here. The Romania and Mongolia examples show that answers aren't simple or inexpensive and they make take years to formulate.

We'd better keep trying. And we'd better keep an eye on what's going on in the world around us when it comes to wild horse management and politics. Success here might mean success there, and vice versa. Good news is welcome from any corner of the world. Let's not wait until we have to teach captive-bred mustangs how to live in the wild.