Wild Mustangs remain a most controversial subject among anybody who shares even the slightest horse affection.
Again, headlines have illuminated in recent days with approval of giving a large native Mustang herd to private ownership.
The Nevada Board of Agriculture voted last month to transfer ownership of 3,000 Virginia Range wild horses to a private entity.
That new “owner” would then have private “property rights” entitling them to do whatever they want with the horses, including send them to slaughter, according to Deniz Bolbol, director of field operations for the American Wild Horse Campaign.
Nevada state officials sent a termination notice to the American Wild Horse Campaign who they had been partnering with to help keep the horses from being slaughtered, Bolbol confirmed.
The Virginia Range is an area of about 30 square miles located in northern Nevada just east of Reno, Bolbol informed.
“Wild horses have roamed the Virginia Range for an unknown number of years,” Bolbol said. “During the 1860s when thousands of immigrants converged on the area to search for gold, wild horses, Mustangs, were seen along the landscape as they can be seen today
“The wild horse prevails and maintains the fortitude of their ancestors from centuries ago,” Bolbol said.
An emerging theory has evolved suggesting that wild horses were present in North America before the Spanish arrived in the 15th and 16th centuries.
“That idea, known as ‘the Pre-Columbian horse,’ is in contradiction with the long-standing opinion that domestic horses were ‘reintroduced’ to America,” Bolbol said.
The established theory contends that native horses disappeared some 10,000 years ago, leaving the continent over a land bridge between Alaska and Russia. There’s also opinion that native people, through predation, eradicated the animal.
Unwritten accounts by indigenous peoples dispute the disappearance of wild horses. Two breeds in particular, the Appaloosa and the Pinto, were prized for their distinctive colors and selectively bred by Native Americans.
“This radical notion will only be substantiated over time as fossils are unearthed that may reveal a very different history,” Bolbol said.
“Horse fossils were found in 1990 that are estimated to be 25,000 years old,” Bolbol noted. “As new discoveries are made, the Mustangs, may be formally recognized as an indigenous species to North America.
Velma Johnston of Reno Nevada, also known as “Wild Horse Annie,” lobbied to change what was certain extinction for the horse.
Due to her efforts, the first law was passed in 1959 that prohibited the use of aircraft and autos in capturing wild horses and burros.
Wild Horse Annie also spearheaded Federal legislation passed in 1971 that established preservation of wild horses on public lands.
Agreement between the state of Nevada and the American Wild Horse Campaign in 2013 focused on population control by using birth control and adoption.
“The Virginia Range Sanctuary is a non-profit organization dedicated to preserving and restoring the Virginia Range,” Bolbol explained.
While the wild horses of the Virginia Range are a primary concern, the group is involved in restoring native plants, natural springs, and all animals that make this a total ecosystem.
“We consider the wild horse a perfect barometer of our success,” Bolbol said.
The state of Nevada terminated the deal because they believe the American Wild Horse Campaign did not fulfill their side of the agreement in protecting public safety.
In September, a utility vehicle driver collided with a wild horse and died.
Jim Barbee, director of Nevada Department of Agriculture, said, “Our number one priority is public safety, and that requires collaboration among state, local and nonprofit partners. The NDA can assist law enforcement with removal of feral horses.”
Bolbol believes the group has fulfilled their part of the agreement. “With its termination the state of Nevada will not have to notify horse organizations when wild horses have been removed from the wild and if they are being sent to slaughter auctions.
“For years, AWHC has worked to protect the Virginia Range horses,” Bolbol contended. “Through cooperative agreements, we implemented the world’s largest humane birth control program and rescued 240 horses from slaughter.”
Several dozen wild horse advocates gathered in front of the Nevada State Capital in Carson City, Saturday night, Jan. 6, 2018, for a candlelight vigil.
They called on Governor Brian Sandoval to reverse the Department of Agriculture’s plan to hand the Virginia Range wild horses over to private ownership.
“We are here, we are ready. We want to come back to the table as quickly as possible and get this back on track,” said Maureen Daane, wild horse advocate.
“It was a total shock to the whole community and to every advocate,” stated Louise Martin, another Mustang preserver.
“Sit down with us, we can work this out. It can be a positive thing for everybody and for the horses,” Martin requested.