In a perfect world, there would be enough land, forage, and water for all creatures to flourish. The world is not perfect and the population of free-roaming horses is growing at an unsustainable pace, outstripping resources and efforts to reach manageable numbers. The consequences can be dire. In May 2018, close to 200 wild horses died on the Navajo Reservation, victims of drought after a dry winter and dismal spring runoff. Photos from the scene of the lifeless animals around a dried-up waterhole were heart-breaking.
On the Navajo reservation, which spans a large swath of northeastern Arizona and adjacent area in northern New Mexico, there are an estimated 48,000 free-roaming horses living on the rugged, sparsely vegetated land. Every five years, the population of wild horses doubles. The Navajo get it; there are too many horses and not enough water or forage to sustain them.
New Mexico is home to 19 pueblos; many of them have a wild horse problem, too. The pueblos aren’t blessed with rolling grasslands. The land is rocky, the vegetation sparse. The wild horses compete with native wildlife and the cattle and sheep of the Native Americans.
I recently spoke with a Native American colleague of mine who was born and raised on one of New Mexico’s pueblos. She is a wonderful person who balances her native heritage with life as a busy and very practical veterinarian. She shared her perspective on the challenges posed by the growing population wild horses on Native Americans’ lands.
A Native American Perspective
I was born on the pueblo in the early 1970s. My family members were trappers and ranchers, raising sheep and cattle. I always had a propensity for animals. I was the kid who came home with stray dogs, a cat I’d found or a lamb I hoped to mother.
Watching my family’s relationship with the animals we depended on for our livelihood, I wanted to help them. So I decided to become a veterinarian. The cattle my family raised paid for my education. After I became a vet, I returned to the pueblo and started my practice.
Our pueblo has a wild horse problem. Not as bad as the Navajo Nation, but there are too many—about 7,000. As I travel the pueblo caring for livestock and pets, I see the damage the wild horses are causing. The changes to the land are severe. In some areas it looks like the Sahara desert. The vegetation has been stripped. There is little forage for wildlife let alone livestock. It is uninhabitable.
The tribal cowboys try to gather the horses using baited corrals, but the horses are very wary; their flight or fight zone is one-half mile. They are extremely suspicious of people. PZP (a contraceptive) doesn’t work because the cowboys can’t get close enough to dart. We are not doing a good job controlling the horses’ numbers.
Most who live on the pueblo no longer make a living from ranching. However, the land continues to support our livelihoods and our homes. Land management is still very important to us and to New Mexico, which relies on its beauty for tourism. We must attend to the health of the range and mountains and to the health of agriculture lands. The earth is our mother, from where we came. It is our duty, our heritage, and in our blood to protect her.
My grandfather had a sixth grade education. He was very wise and considered himself an environmentalist. His ecological knowledge was traditional and powerful. “If I don’t care for the earth, the earth won’t care for my animals or my family,” he said. That is our truth.
I am extremely hopeful Wildlife Protection Management’s system can help reduce the population of wild horses on our pueblo and other pueblos and reservations. As a vet, I can say the system is humane and respectful of the horses. Here on the pueblo, we need all the help we can get. The future of America’s tribal lands depends on it.
Thank you for reading our post. If you’d like to learn more about WPM’s humane, technology driven system for managing feral animals and wildlife, visit our website. If you’d like to partner with us on the commercialization of our system, learn more here and connect with us. I welcome your questions.