For wild horses in Canada survival depends on where they live. On Sable Island and Newfoundland wild horses have protections under the law while those that live in Alberta and British Columbia do not.
While early wild horses were in North America around 2 to 3 million years ago they became extinct about 11,000 according to Claudia Notzke, Ph.D., Associate Professor at The University of Lethbridge. Modern horses were brought to Mexico by Spanish explorers beginning in 1519. Many escaped their owners traveling throughout the Plains of the United States and Canada. Therefore, wild horses in Canada are actually considered to be feral animals, once domesticated and now living in the wild. That distinction has allowed lawmakers to not offer wild horses the same protections that other wild animals have.
Because wild horses are not considered native to North America and are not livestock they are in danger of being wiped out. In 2012 there were at least 218 wild horses in Alberta captured with licenses by the ESRD (Alberta Environment & Sustainable Resource Development).
Canadian Wild Horse Foundation (CWH) is working to change this by asking the Canadian House of Commons to designate the wild horses of Alberta as a "Heritage Animal". Founded by Catherine Betts in December 2011, the former race horse trainer is passionate about these animals. At this time CWH has a petition online that will be presented this autumn to the House of Commons.
"Mother Nature is hard enough on the wild horses," Betts said during a phone interview. "They have natural predators, the wolves, cougars and bears, and the harshness of the winter. Only the strongest survive."
Betts said that ranchers and those in the forestry industry are both against wild horses, claiming that they are a nuisance to the environment. However, horses are known to redistribute seeds through their feces and do not eat pine. Betts said that the native moose and deer are more likely to trample the newly planted trees that the wild horses are being blamed for.
During the cull of 2011 (there was not a cull in 2012) Betts said that the majority of horses were taken to the slaughterhouse. Those that were taken for the Calgary Stampede also went to slaughter after the event.
"Some of the horses were taken by people who are now raising them. While I, personally, would rather these animals remain free this is the better option," Betts said. "Wild horses are part of Canada's heritage. The western movement was achieved in part because of the wild horses, they have been captured and served the nation in both World Wars. The Crown land that they reside on is the size of Prince Edward Island. There is more than enough room for the horses to live."
Alberta's Wild Horses
Adrienne Calvert, Newz4u's animal rights writer, was asked to join CWF about a year ago and was very active with the group within months. Calvert had a broader online petition that had over 2,300 International signatures but she is now focusing on the Alberta Wild Horses at a Federal level.
"We knew we had to get more focused for these animals. We have gotten Parliament Member Blake Richards representing the petition in the House of Commons and are in the process of getting Not-For-Profit status. We are also building a Board of Directors for the Foundation," Calvert shared during a phone interview. "We've done the letter writing campaigns and gotten back the form letters. It's now time to make a real difference."
Calvert is behind the launching of the group’s Facebook page and social media campaign on Monday. She will actively build the CWH Foundation with Betts going forward.
"Over 100 people joined within the first 10 hours of launching the Facebook page," Calvert said. Many of those who have joined are already looking for ways to help. One Alberta member will be taking the petition to a local outdoor adventure show.
Calvert's wish would be for the horses to be free in their natural environment but knows that it is a hard road for her cause. With less than 800 wild horses left in Alberta she only hopes that the campaign is not too late.
"Horse slaughter is big business in Canada. We need to look at all of our options, ones that don't include the slaughtering of these Heritage Animals. As it is nature takes care of its own. The problem is when we go in and try to change the natural environment," Calvert said.
One of the things that Calvert is suggesting is to use the wild horses as a way to increase tourism dollars as is being done with the Sable Island horses. There's another aspect that is already being done in Europe.
"In Europe they are reintroducing wild horses to the wild. They are finding that the horses benefit the environment in countless ways," Calvert said.
One of the problems for Alberta's wild horses Calvert says is the labeling of feral. "Saying these horses are feral is misleading. They have been feral for 300 some years. The horses are not the same as today's farm horse. We should be looking into the ancestry of these wild horses and do DNA testing to identify the bloodlines of the horses that came from Europe.” When asked if testing would be against animal rights ideals Calvert laughed, "A quick blood sample is not so bad. Not bad at all when you consider what they are dealing with right now."