Wild horses also indigenous in the US

15 – 5 -2012

During last decades within Europe we are gaining more knowledge and experience with wild horses. In a growing number of areas the animals are now recognized as and intrinsic part of nature and the animals are seen as part of our indigenous wildlife. Within the USA until recently the animals were considered as an exotic species and fell under extermination schemes. The wild mustangs of the US are the descendants of 500 years ago European imported horses. Last year the Cloud Foundation, which is committed to the preservation of the wild mustangs, asked FREE Nature about our opinion on these animals.

It was already known the wild horses were part of Northern American evolution until the last Ice age. After the last ice age early humans arrived from Asia across the Bering Strait. They became the later Indian people. From that moment onwards many large mammalian species became extinct in that part of the world, including the wild horses. From an evolutionary perspective it is also know that the wild horse family evolved in the Northern America, and from that continent they spread over Eurasia and Africa. At the time when FREE Nature was consulted, it was unknown if the wild horses of the last ice age were of the same species as the European introduced ones.

Currently several court judgments rules in favor of the wild mustangs. Hopefully this will lead to better protection schemes. Also more light has been shed on the indigenous character of these animal. According to Ross MacPhee, PhD, curator of the department of vertebrate biology of the American Museum of Natural History in New York, there is no doubt about the fact that we should consider the wild horses indigenous to the US. In his view an indigenous species in evolutionary terms is defined as a species distinguished from or descended from a direct ancestor within a certain geographic region. Morphological and recent DNA evidence show that all wild horses of the species Equus Caballues evolved in Northern America. Our Eurasian wild horses are in fact descendants of these animals. From a scientific point of view according to MacPOhee it’s irrelevant that the wild horses got locally extinct after the last ice age and were later re-introduced in the shape of European domestic horses. From a biological point of view this is a non-event. The animals just returned to a part of their former range.