Is Freedom Free? Calico Wild Horse Roundup Concludes

Early on in the controversial round up of wild horses in the Calico range north of Reno, NV, a black stallion earned the nickname Freedom when he jumped a fence and escaped. It’s unclear if the Bureau of Land Management caught him, but if he made it so far, he’s all set. The Bureau of Land Management says they’re stopping the roundup at 1,922 mustangs instead of the 2,500 they set out to catch. In the process 30 have died.

It’s not because they’ve had a change of heart. They fought a lawsuit to stop the roundup. They’ve fought activists who want to document the gather. It’s just that the horses have moved off the range–as if they’d caught onto what’s going on.

Craig Downer and Elyse Gardner reported on Freedom’s escape on January 2 in Action for Wild Horses: “the captured band stallion, “Freedom,” valiantly fought for and regained his liberty although he had to leave his family of 8 adult mares and 2 colts. Jumping a 6-foot fence and immediately thereafter breaking through a barbed wire fence and injuring himself, this was an awe-inspiring, do-or-die effort demonstrating the loathing of captivity to a wild horse and his need for freedom.”

When I talked with some horse activists at a Madeleine Pickens event last month, they said they’d heard Freedom had been captured but everyone was appealing to set him free again. I haven’t found anyone who knows for sure. I would like to think he made it and somehow

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Are Undescended Horse Testicles Getting in the Way of a Sanctuary?

A big difference in the two leading plans for 33,000 wild horses now held by the federal government is whether mares and geldings may mix. The issue may come down to undescended horse testicles. Interior Secretary Ken Salazar’s plan wouldn’t let geldings mix with mares, who would also be on birth control. Madeleine Pickens’ plan would let the geldings run free and form normal social groups.

There are plenty of other things that divide the plans–location, price, management–but whether the wild horses get to live in their natural herds is a big sticking point for horse advocates. Suzanne Roy, program director for In Defense of Animals, calls it the “the Sala-Zoo plan.” “Most people can drive half an hour or 10 minutes to see horses,” she says. “These horses are wild in name only.” What makes these horses special is the wild, natural lives they lead, she says.

I asked Madeleine Pickens whether geldings at her proposed Mustang Monument would be able to mix. “They’d be able to roam freely and form bachelor bands,” she said.

BLM spokesman Tom Gorey told me this week that they would have to keep the sexes segregated because you “can’t take a chance that the gelding might not have worked. There is always a possibility.”

Say what? I was always amazed when dog people would ask if my obviously neutered male dog Jolly was neutered. The testicles are either intact or removed. Either way, it’s highly visible.

But Gorey referred me to

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Maybe A Starter Sanctuary of 10,000 Wild Horses for Pickens

Ocracoke Wild Ponies

Maybe instead of creating a sanctuary for all 33,000 wild horses currently in federal holding pens, as Madeleine Pickens proposed in 2008, she’ll just take 10,000. The smaller version may help “establish credibility,” she told a group of reporters and supporters at a Manhattan breakfast Wednesday.

She senses resistance is weakening at the Bureau of Land Management, which controls the horses and spends $29 million a year keeping them in holding areas.

So far, however, the BLM just keeps collecting more wild horses, something animal advocates hoped would stop after President Obama took office. In Defense of Animals announced Tuesday that BLM is already starting to round up 12,000 horses this year in Nevada. That means we’ll end 2010 with roughly 63%–or nearly two-thirds of our wild horses (including expected foals)–kept in holding facilities, mostly in Oklahoma and Kansas. Even if BLM lets Pickens take care of 10,000 horses, we’d still be worse off (as judged by the size of our wild horse menagerie) than when Obama took office.

The Obama Administration has come up with a rival option known as Salazar’s Plan, named after Interior Secretary Ken Salazar, who is thought to be too cozy with cattlemen. It would cost $96 million to create for two of seven preserves he would put in the east and Midwest. Pickens says those would accommodate just 7,000 horses. Somehow I think taxpayers would prefer Pickens’ option, in which she supplies the land and manages the horses and the feds

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The Last Wild Horses in the Bahamas

The Bahamas are down to only six wild horses. Genetic tests show they’re Spanish Barbs who improbably survived for generations in pine forest and scrub.

Then logging companies came–clearing forests, bringing hunting dogs and flushing the horses into view, according to “The road put in by the logging company opened the area up to local hunters. When a child died due to her own misbehavior with a horse, locals tried to slaughter all the horses.  Three were rescued and placed on the [Bahamas Star Farms] and as their numbers grew they were released back into the regenerating forest,” say Milanne Rehor who founded  Wild Horses of Abaco.  Rehor desrcribes herself as a once “horse crazy child,” set out to find them after reading of them in a sailing guide. She eventually found that they were real, but about to disappear. In 1982 there were 35 Abaco horses. In 2005, the Bahaman government claims it shut down Bahamas Star Farms because of a citrus canker; Rehor says the area was clear cut. Now a mysterious illness is killing off the horses. “It has been invaded by Brazilian pepper and Lantana Sage, the latter deadly to animals. The horses know to not eat it, but it became so thick in one forage area that two ingested it by accident and died,” Rehor says. “The area has been closed off and there have been no more loses.”

Here’s the group’s emergency plan. If this rare population is going to survive, they

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2,700 Wild Horses Fight Eviction in Federal Court

Ocracoke Pony

Today a federal judge in Washington will hear wild horse advocates argue that 2,700 wild horses in Nevada shouldn’t be rounded up and held indefinitely in holding pens. Seems like an obvious choice, but under the antiquated U.S. wild horse protections, it’s not.

Wild horses in America are like a beleagured employee who has somehow gotten stuck with a totally inappropriate manager who doesn’t understand their charm or why he can’t just get rid of them. Horses somehow fall under the The Bureau of Land Management, despite its mission to provide land for energy producers, cattle ranchers and miners. Since 2000 the BLM has gone on a spree of rounding up wild horses, creating what has become a vast, money-sucking collection of 11,000 in corrals and 22,000 in Midwestern pastures–the same number that run wild. In 2008 the BLM started openly talking about mass euthanasia for mustangs. (To save them, Madeleine Pickens proposed a private sanctuary.)

The BLM announced its final decision Monday to remove 2,700 horses near Reno in what it calls the Calico Complex Round-up, which includes five herd management areas: Black Rock Range East and West, Calico Mountains, Granite Range, and Warm Springs Canyon. The BLM decided the right amount of horses for the area is 600-900 and it counts about 3,000 out there.

If they don’t round up the horses, some might die, the BLM threatens. Well, yeah, they’re wild animals. That’s what they do. It’s not as if this is a magical species that would

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Why Assateague is Way Better than Chincoteague

Assateague Island National Seashore, MD, Wild Ponies

Wild ponies live on Assateague, a barrier island divided into a good side (Maryland) and a bad side (Virginia). Oh, Virginia will call you–with bombastic billboards, then the impossibly scenic seaside Chincoteague. But cover your ears and keep driving to Maryland.If you do get lured to Chincoteague you’ll find, alongside the cute cottages, lots of mini golf courses and a shabby pony attraction. Chincoteage residents are such cheapskates that rather than pay taxes like the rest of us for a fire department, they have a volunteer one and the fund it by auctioning off the wild ponies each year. Viriginia is not for dog lovers. On the way to their side of the island, they have a huge sign, no pets allowed, NOT EVEN IN YOUR CAR. The townspeople claimed it was very important rule. “The dogs could hurt the endangered species.” The ponies? Really? And if it’s not the ponies, if this is just another piping plover situation, why all the fuss?Somehow when the ponies walk to the Maryland side, where dogs are allowed in and out of cars, they seem to do just fine. Maryland was very friendly. The ranger told us she’s never been to the island without seeing ponies. Sure enough, we saw ponies right away on the road in. Some were galloping in the bay, others mobbed by tourists on the roadside. Jolly’s reaction? None. Pony reaction to Jolly in the car? None.Maryland even let us take

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