Are There Any Genuine Wild Horses in America?

by on March 8th, 2015
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On September 2, 2011 the PilotOnline.com reported on a herd of “wild horses” that survived Hurricane Irene. The term “wild horses” caught my attention as this cannot be accurately used with these horses. If truly wild they would have been descended from horses that were never domesticated. On the contrary, these horses are descendants of domestic horses brought to the New World by early European explorers and therefore are more correctly referred to as feral.

According to most scientists there is only one wild horse in existence. Przewalski’s horse is the only species of horse that can be called wild because they were never domesticated. Przewalski’s horses were declared extinct in the wild in the early 1980’s and then reintroduced into Mongolia in 1992 from specimens held in zoos1. The only other wild horse to have existed into modern times was the tarpan, with the last animal dying in a Russian Zoo in 19092.

Non-captive horses in America should be referred to as feral because no proven connection can be made between these horses and any prehistoric wild species. Most scientists believe that wild horses in the Americas died out sometime around the end last ice age. This long held scientific belief however, has been challenged by some who contest that the wild horse never died out3 and that feral horses are at least in part descended from wild horses.

Dakota/Lakota Elders, as well as many other Native American groups, assert that horses survived beyond the Ice Age and that Native American’s developed a horse culture long before Europe contact4. Many proponents of American Mustangs lobby to classify feral horses as wild based on their belief that they are in fact descended from wild Native American horses5. The Book of Mormon, which is a record of peoples in ancient America6, who recorded their history from about 2200 BC to 400 AD7 mentions horses in multiple instances8. In a statement for the 110th Congress in January of 2007 researchers stated that no mitochondrial DNA difference can be made between Ice Age and modern horses9. The assertion is then, that there is no genetic difference between feral horses and horses that would have existed in America the wild. If true, this would allow feral horses to be officially reclassified as wild9.

The question of whether the classification of feral versus wild horses in America will be resolved conclusively, is yet to be seen. For now we are left with a tantalizing mystery, but until more research can be gathered the term “wild horses” cannot be decisively used when referring to horses in America.

1. http://www.sandiegozoo.org/animalbytes/t-przewalski_horse.html

2. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tarpan

3. On the Pleistocene extinctions of Alaskan mammoths and horses; Andrew R. Solow, David L. Roberts, and Karen M. Robbirt.

4. The Aboriginal North American Horse; In support of senate bill 2278 (north Dakota) statement of Claire Henderson history department Batiment de Koninck Laval University Quebec city, Quebec Canada

5. Mustangs Spirit of the Shrinking West, By Alexandra Fuller Published February 2009

6. Encyclopedia of Mormonism, McMillan publishing; page 177

7. http://lds.org/gospellibrary/materials/BofMChart000.pdf 8. Book of Mormon; 1 Nephi 18:21, Enos 1:21, Alma 18:9-12, 3 Nephi 3:22, Ether 9:19.

9. Wild Horses as Native North American Wildlife By Jay F. Kirkpatrick, Ph.D. and Patricia M. Fazio, Ph.D.


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