Theodore Roosevelt was a champion of wilderness and a big fan of horses. Our nation’s 26th president was a Rough Rider, after all. And he kept numerous horses in the White House stables while in office.
Given that, it’s hard to imagine that Theodore Roosevelt wouldn’t be shaking his head over plans to decimate the already tiny population of wild horses in the national park that bears his name. We should be shaking our heads, too.
Currently, just 180 wild horses roam the badlands of Theodore Roosevelt National Park. But the National Park Service is considering plans that could bring that number down to an unsustainable 35 to 60 horses, or eliminate the herd entirely. We should not let this happen.
The American Wild Horse Campaign urges the NPS to set a minimum herd size of 150 horses to ensure a genetically viable herd, as recommended by Dr. Gus Cothran, an equine geneticist, for all wild horse herds in the United States.
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If “new blood” needs to be brought into the herd, the NPS should introduce horses that are historically significant to the TRNP and prioritize the Nokota horses. A 2018 study from Texas A&M found that the historic herd is at risk of inbreeding and recommended introducing new mares and changing removal strategies to preserve genetics and lineages.
Given concerns about its potential for permanent sterilization and injection site abscesses, the NPS must eliminate the use of GonaCon for the fertility control program. When administering any fertility control program, the NPS must consider the herd’s genetics and bloodlines as well as the safety of mares. Instead of GonaCon, the NPS should implement a fertility control program using the PZP vaccine, which has been proven to be reversible and safe for the mare.
If removal of horses needs to take place, NPS should use science and genetics to determine what horses will be removed. However, a successful fertility control program should mean that there is no need from removals.
The NPS also should change the designation of the Theodore Roosevelt horses from “livestock” to “wildlife.” The NPS has never explained why they’re designated as livestock and doesn’t acknowledge paleontological evidence and mitochondrial DNA analysis supporting the fact that wild horses are a reintroduced native species to this continent.
The Theodore Roosevelt wild horses are a significant part of the historical and natural heritage of the park and the state. Equally important, they’re a huge tourism draw for North Dakota. Let’s honor them, and the park’s namesake, by protecting and preserving them for future generations.