The wild horses in Theodore Roosevelt National Park are a remarkable presence in the stunning Badlands’ landscape. Like the elk and bison in the park, they dramatically populate a snapshot of the natural world. They are a treasure that we have an obligation to care for.
The wild horses, like the bison and elk in the park, pose complicated and challenging management issues.
Theodore Roosevelt National Park has just come off a controversial reduction in the elk herd, in which animal numbers in the park were lowered through a series of controlled hunts. Periodically, park buffalo are gathered and some are shipped to herds on Indian reservations in the region. This fall, a wild horse roundup will take place, with an auction to be held in Wishek on Sept. 28.
The wild horse roundup and auction appear to be the best solutions among difficult choices. There’s a fear that some of those auctioned animals will end up in a slaughterhouse. In 2009, when the last auction was held, eight of 77 animals sold ended up slaughtered, according to wild horse proponents.
Key to finding “good homes” for the wild horses is to have enough willing buyers who are committed to taking care of the animals. The park wants to roundup and auction about 100 horses out of about 200 in the park. To that end, two Facebook pages have been developed by private individuals to promote the wild horses: Wild In North Dakota and North Dakota Badlands Horse.
Keeping in mind the horses are wild, and they can pose interesting challenges to people who take on their care. And horses are not pets.
The Theodore Roosevelt National Park horse issue doesn’t rise to the crisis level of some federal lands where wild horse numbers are in the thousands and some wild horses are warehoused.
The National Park Service has another strategy for managing the wild horses in Theodore Roosevelt National Park. The park service been working with an immuo-contraceptive vaccine for the mares. The hope is to eventually eliminate the need for the roundup and auction, which can injure or stress out the horses.
Meanwhile, it’s our hope that enough people care about the wild horses so that the September auction will be well attended, and that the remarkable animals will find suitable homes.