How people can live next to lions without killing them – new study

Grant Hopcraft, University of Glasgow

There is a sense of haunting to the roar of a lion veiled in darkness. The emphatic “ooooaa!” demands attention as it starts in the abdomen and reverberates through the night air. Its direction and distance are secondary to one’s primordial reaction – a sudden dilation of the pupils and a flare of prickles on the neck. The call unmistakably announces a large carnivore, yet as each roar fades into solitary grunts it feels less like an act of aggression than the lonely imploring of a lost soul in the darkness.

The plight of Africa’s lions is lamentable. Since the 1960s, the world has lost at least 70% of these magnificent cats, which until a few thousand years ago inhabited most of Europe, Asia and the Americas. Now we’re down to around 20,000, all of them in Africa apart from one sub-species in India. Habitat loss and the encroachment of people are largely responsible – lions in Kenya and Tanzania are shot by wildlife officials if they consistently kill livestock, for instance. And trophy hunters still shoot lions in the wild every year in countries where it is permitted, including Tanzania and Zimbabwe.

But if you were expecting a fable in which cunning Human steals from noble Lion, this story is not so clear-cut. Living with these predators is not easy. For many people in rural Africa, livestock pay for school fees and hospital bills, and insure against misfortune. Imagine finding half your nest egg has been taken overnight and, worse, worrying your family might be next. Unsurprisingly, many lions that live near people end up shot or poisoned. Yet it doesn’t have to be this way. A new five-year study that I have been involved in shows that when people directly benefit from lions, they become more tolerant of their faults.

Conservancies

We focused on an area surrounding the Mara National Reserve in Kenya, a protected zone at the northern extent of the Serengeti ecosystem. These fertile grasslands are the home of the Maasai, semi-nomadic pastoralists who share them with the great annual migration of over a million wildebeest and their predators, including lions.

Maasai tribeswoman.
Avatar_023

Maasai have always speared any rogue that dares interfere with their livestock; and today there are far more people and livestock and much less space for lions. Yet many on the northern edge of the Mara have wisely noted the premiums that tourists are prepared to pay for the Serengeti experience.

Lions help attract over 350,000 visitors to the area every year, generating $90 million (£63 million) in entrance fees alone. Beyond the national reserve, many families have combined landholdings into community conservancies which welcome visitors for a fee. They attract wildlife by managing and protecting resources such as livestock, water and unique habitats; and they distribute income fairly around the community to avoid feuds. Other families have declined this opportunity, relying purely on their livestock for income.

Grant Hopcraft

Hence there is a 1,500sqkm patchwork of conservancies and other privately owned pastureland to the north of the Mara National Reserve. Together with the reserve itself, where no one lives and lions can roam freely, it amounts to a perfect three-way natural experiment to investigate the effects of conservancies on lions. Lead author Sara Blackburn and Laurence Frank, a veteran predator biologist, spent five years observing the lifespan of 382 lions in the area. This is the first time anyone has looked at the survival rates of individual lions in relation to conservancies, rather than just counting them.

The natural life expectancy of a lion living in the wild rarely exceeds 13 years. When we compared the survival of lions living outside national parks, our results consistently showed that survival is not determined by how many prey are available or the quality of the habitat – there are enough of both to sustain this population. The number of livestock in a lion’s territory makes no difference either.

The only factor that consistently cuts short a lion’s life, sometimes lowering the chances of survival by as much as 40%, is the number of homesteads in its territory that are not part of a community conservancy. Homesteads that are members of a conservancy, on the other hand, have no negative effect on lions’ survival chances. This suggests that when people receive income from lions via ecotourism, they become tolerant and lions survive. There is a good chance that the same would also be true for other animals that are declining across the region, such as giraffe and impala.

Next steps

Cecil, the lion shot by an American hunter last year, drew a line in the sand regarding the public’s opinion on conservation of this remarkable predator. These events have sparked heated debates about the role of trophy hunting and using fences to protect lions in the wild, even while recent footage of an agitated lion walking the streets of Nairobi highlights the continued struggle for space.

In this worrying context, our research points to how this story can end more happily. Community conservancies are a viable and working alternative to protecting wildlife. Although they exist in many parts of Kenya and Tanzania, we must continue encouraging governments to develop similar opportunities for local communities to benefit from wildlife through ecotourism. Evidence such as ours gives reason to be optimistic that community conservancies will continue to expand and benefit human and lion alike.

Sara Blackburn, an MSc student in biodiversity and conservation, assisted in the writing of the piece

The Conversation

Grant Hopcraft, Research Fellow, University of Glasgow

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Does nature have value beyond what it provides humans?

Michael Paul Nelson, Oregon State University; Jeremy T Bruskotter, Ohio State University, and John A Vucetich, Michigan Technology University

You can drive a nail with a hammer, and you can pull one. With a pencil you can write a poem or a song. Hammers and pencils are clearly useful – instrumentally valuable, that is. But if the pencil snaps or the hammer cracks, then it’s off to the trash heap.

Your daughter is different. She may be useful in mowing the lawn and providing a tax write-off, but she also possesses value far beyond her utility. Daughters are also intrinsically valuable.

What about the intrinsic value of nature? Does nature have only pencil- and hammer-like values, or does nature also possess intrinsic value?

A handful of very vocal conservationists these days make assertions about the exclusive importance of nature’s instrumental value. We will not be motivated to protect nature, they assert, unless we appreciate the full range of “ecosystems services” nature provides to humans (water purification, pollination and the like). In turn, they make claims about, even ridicule, the failure of appeals to conservation premised upon the intrinsic value of nature.

This fervent commitment to the instrumental value of nature even trickles down to individual, highly sentient, parts of nature. It’s okay to kill lions, they say, because killing a lion for a trophy can generate important conservation revenue. A lion’s life is, they say, instrumentally valuable, a means to an end.

All of these assertions are built upon the assumed truth of an empirical claim. They assume that only by appealing to the instrumental value of nature will we motivate environmental action, because, they assume, that’s how humans value nature. We are, that is, anthropocentric (from the Greek, meaning human-centered). Everyone knows that, right?

Actually, as it turns out, not right.

Widely held view

In our research we found that the premise currently underpinning so much conservation effort is wildly mistaken.

A survey we conducted with Ohio residents – hardly a bastion of tree-hugging-granola-munching-Birkenstock-wearing-Prius drivers – demonstrated that more than 82% of Ohioans acknowledged the intrinsic value of wildlife. A nationally representative survey of adults revealed very similar numbers (81%). Moreover, we see this high level of intrinsic value attribution across demographic groups: whether rural residents or urbanites, rich or poor, male or female, hunters or non-hunters. Interestingly, more than 90% of people who strongly identified as “conservationists” in the Ohio survey acknowledged nature’s intrinsic value. This suggests that conservationists who reject nature’s intrinsic value are out of the mainstream of their peers.

But if so very many of us believe in nature’s intrinsic value, then why do we seem to behave otherwise? Why do we continue to pollute more than necessary? Why do we continue to destroy natural habitats by expanding human developments in places where human well-being is already high? Why do we as a society make so many decisions that appear to be, or that actually are, inconsistent with the idea that nature possesses intrinsic value?

Perhaps because while you believe in nature’s intrinsic value, you don’t believe that enough of the rest of us share your belief for it to be an effective basis for conservation. Perhaps, that is, we’ve bought into a false narrative about our own ethical beliefs?

Acknowledgment

This is one of the many mistaken ideas about nature’s intrinsic value, but it’s an important one. The assumptions we make (rightly or wrongly) about the world, including about the way people value that world, control the approaches we take or believe to be viable, the questions we ask or fail to ask, and ultimately the outcomes we can expect or never even imagine. It’s vital that we get this right; it colors every aspect of our relationship with nature.

So, let’s give ourselves some credit, even a little pat on the back (but gently, only one hand, just for a moment). Now, let’s think hard about what widespread acknowledgment of nature’s intrinsic value means.

It means that we are not necessarily the equivalent of morally self-absorbed infants. We are more morally mature than we might have imagined, than people keep insisting.

But this is bittersweet, because with moral maturity comes moral responsibility. As we acknowledge that we attribute intrinsic value to nature, we must hold ourselves accountable for that acknowledgment.

We invite conservationists and the conservation community to engage in a moment of reflection: we say we believe nature has intrinsic value; from that belief, what follows?

The Conversation

Michael Paul Nelson, Professor of Environmental Ethics and Philosophy, Oregon State University; Jeremy T Bruskotter, Associate Professor of Environment and Natural Resources, Ohio State University, and John A Vucetich, Associate Professor of Forest Resources and Environmental Science, Michigan Technology University

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Restore large carnivores to save struggling ecosystems

William Ripple, Oregon State University

We are losing our large carnivores. In ecosystems around the world, the decline of large predators such as lions, bears, dingoes, wolves, and otters is changing landscapes, from the tropics to the Arctic. Habitat loss, persecution by humans and loss of prey have combined to inflict great losses on these populations.

In fact more than 75% of the 31 largest carnivore species are declining, and 17 species now occupy less than half their former ranges. Southeast Asia, southern and East Africa, and the Amazon are among areas in which multiple large carnivore species are declining. And with only a few exceptions, large carnivores have already been exterminated from much of the developed world, including areas of Western Europe, and the eastern United States.

Top dogs keep ecosystems in order

Many of these large carnivore species are endangered and some are at risk of extinction, either in specific regions or entirely. Ironically, they are vanishing just as we are learning about their important ecological effects, which is what led us to write a new paper in the journal Science to document their role.

From a review of published reports, we singled out seven species that have been studied for their important ecological role and widespread effects, known as trophic cascades. These are the African lion, leopard, Eurasian lynx, cougar, gray wolf, sea otter and dingo.

Based on field research, my Oregon State University co-author Robert Beschta and I documented the impact of cougars and wolves on the regeneration of forest tree stands and riverside vegetation in Yellowstone and other national parks in western North America. Fewer predators, we found, lead to an increase in browsing animals such as deer and elk. More browsing disrupts vegetation, reduces birds and some mammals and changes other parts of the ecosystem. From the actions of the top predator, widespread impacts cascade down the food chain.

Similar effects were found in studies of Eurasian lynx, dingoes, lions and sea otters. For example in Europe, absence of lynx has been closely tied to the abundance of roe deer, red fox and hare. In Australia, the construction of a 3,400-mile dingo-proof fence has enabled scientists to study ecosystems with and without dingoes which are closely related to gray wolves. They found that dingoes control populations of herbivores and exotic red foxes. The suppression of these species by dingoes reduces predation pressure, benefiting plants and smaller native prey.

In some parts of Africa, the decrease of lions and leopards has coincided with a dramatic increase in olive baboons, which threaten crops and livestock. In the waters off southeast Alaska, a decline in sea otters through killer whale predation has led to a rise in sea urchins and loss of kelp beds.

Predators are integral, not expendable

We are now obtaining a deeper appreciation of the impact of large carnivores on ecosystems, a view that can be traced back to the work of landmark ecologist Aldo Leopold. The perception that predators are harmful and deplete fish and wildlife is outdated. Many scientists and wildlife managers now recognise the growing evidence of carnivores’ complex role in ecosystems, and their social and economic benefits. Leopold recognised these relationships, but his observations were ignored for decades after his death in 1948.

Top carnivores, at work keeping things in check.
Doug Smith

Human tolerance of these species is the major issue. Most would agree these animals have an intrinsic right to exist, but additionally they provide economic and ecological services that people value. Among the services documented in other studies are carbon sequestration, restoration of riverside ecosystems, biodiversity and disease control. For example, wolves may limit large herbivore populations, thus decreasing browsing on young trees that sequester carbon when they escape browsing and grow taller. Where large carnivore populations have been restored – such as wolves in Yellowstone or Eurasian lynx in Finland – ecosystems appear to be bouncing back.

I am impressed with how resilient the Yellowstone ecosystem is, and while ecosystem restoration isn’t happening quickly everywhere in this park, it has started. In some cases where vegetation loss has led to soil erosion, for example, full restoration may not be possible in the near term. What is certain is that ecosystems and the elements of them are highly interconnected. The work at Yellowstone and other places shows how species affect each another through different pathways. It’s humbling as a scientist to witness this interconnectedness of nature.

My co-authors and I have called for an international initiative to conserve large carnivores in co-existence with people. This effort could be modelled after a couple of other successful efforts including the Large Carnivore Initiative for Europe, a non-profit scientific group affiliated with the International Union for the Conservation of Nature, and the Global Tiger Initiative which involves all 13 of the tiger-range countries. With more tolerance by humans, we might be able to avoid extinctions. The world would be a scary place without these predators.

The Conversation

William Ripple, Professor and Director, Trophic Cascades Program, Oregon State University

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Five ways to stop the world’s wildlife vanishing

Paul Jepson, University of Oxford

Full marks to colleagues at the World Wildlife Fund and the Zoological Society of London for the Living Planet Report 2014 and its headline message which one hopes ought to shock the world out of its complacency: a 52% decline of wildlife populations in the past 40 years.

Over the summer I re-read Fairfield Osborne’s 1948 classic Our Plundered Planet – the first mass-readership environmental book that detailed the scale of the damage humanity wrought on nature. Faced with the figures in this report it is easy to slip into despondency and to blame others. But this would be a mistake. At the time, Osborne’s report must have been equally alarming, but the eclectic conservation movement of which he was part responded with confidence, hope and vision.

Their achievements were huge: the creation of a reserve network that forestalled the extinction of African creatures such as the elephant and rhino, the creation of a nature conservation agency, the International Union for Conservation of Nature) (IUCN) within the UN, and a raft of international wildlife agreements.

Today, conservation-minded people will probably be wondering what can be done to reverse wildlife declines. For me the question is how can today’s conservationists leave a wildlife legacy for the 21st century, and I think there are five ways we can change conservation to better fit the circumstances we face.

1. Decentralise and diversify

The effort to ensure that nature conservation became a policy area of the UN necessitated developing a strong international conservation regime. This has served us well, but the world has changed: centralised authority has given way to messy, networked governance organised across many levels.

If the Balinese want to restore Bali Starling populations in coconut plantations I say applaud their vision and learn from their innovation. What matters is that wildlife populations flourish, not that some institutionalised notion of a “wild species” gains global consensus. It is time to nurture diversity in conservation practice.

Bleak future?
Profberger, CC BY

2. View wildlife as an asset

Since the 1990s conservation has become overly technocratic, with nature framed as a natural resource and stock of capital available for human economic development. Given human self-interest this just leads to arguments over who gets what share.

I suggest a better way to frame environmental policy is in terms of natural assets – places, attributes and processes that while representing forms of value to invest in, are also at risk of being eroded and must be protected.

We’ve done this before – think of great national parks where wildlife conservation, natural beautification and outdoor recreation combine for the benefit of wildlife, while also emphasising regional or national identity, health and cultural and economic worth.

3. Embrace re-wilding

Re-wilding is gaining traction. I see re-wilding as an opening, an opportunity for creative thinking and action that will affect the future. A key theme is restoration of trophic levels – in which the missing large animals at the top of the food chain are reintroduced, allowing natural ecosystem processes to reassert themselves.

We might ask whether today’s reported declines in wildlife are a symptom of the ecosystem becoming more simple and, if so, whether re-wilding will lead to more abundant wildlife. Ecological intuition suggests the latter but in truth we don’t know.

The not-so-common grass snake
Thomas Brown, CC BY

In my view we need large-scale, publicly-financed re-wilding experiments to explore and develop new ways of rebuilding wildlife populations as an asset for society.

4. Harness new technologies

It’s clear that wildlife conservation is moving from being a data-poor to a data-rich science. The methods that underpin the Living Planet Report are state-of-the art, but even so we have yet to capture the analytical potential of “big data”.

Recent rapid developments in sensor technologies look set to bring about a step change in environmental research and monitoring. In ten year’s time, I predict that the challenge for indexing the planet will shift from searching out and compiling data sets to working out how to deal with an environmental “data deluge”.

Despite this, wildlife conservation lacks a coherent vision and strategy. There are plenty of interesting technological innovations, but they are fragmented and individualistic in nature. We need leadership and investment to better harness them.

The humble hedgehog.
Klaus Rebler, CC BY

5. Re-engage the powerful

Like it or not, the wildlife conservation movement was at its most influential – as a policy and cultural imperative – when it was filled with active members drawn from the political, aristocratic, business, scientific, artistic and bureaucratic elites.

This was between 1890 and 1970. Over the past 40 years conservation organisations have become more professional, building close working relations with bureaucrats, but approaching other elites simply as sources of patronage, funds and publicity. Conservation organisations must open-up, loosen their corporate structures and let leaders from other walks of life actively contribute their opinion, insight and influence to the cause.

But above all, keep caring

These are five starting points for discussion rather than prescriptions. Perhaps the greatest asset we have is the deep-rooted sense of concern for wildlife found across cultures, professions and classes. It’s time to open up the discussion, to put forward new ideas for debate, and to ask others to suggest new and novel ways to save wildlife.

The Conversation

Paul Jepson, Course Director, MSc Biodiversity, Conservation and Management, University of Oxford

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Restoring and conserving nature in the Anthropocene means changing our idea of success

R. Keller Kopf; Max Finlayson, and Paul Humphries

The Earth has unofficially entered a new epoch – the Anthropocene. It suggests that humans are the dominant influence on the planet’s ecosystems and biosphere – the sum total of life and non-living material on Earth.

Many ecosystems have changed so radically that it is no longer possible to restore them to what they once were, and in other situations it is not appropriate. Instead we need to look at what we can change, accept the things we can’t, and recognise that humans are now an important part of nature.

Restore, reclaim, reintroduce?

Accepting humans as part of nature will require a shift away from traditional views of restoration and conservation.

Governments and communities worldwide spend enormous sums of money and countless hours of work on restoration projects, aiming to reverse the degradation that we have wrought over the past few centuries.

The United Nations, for example, has agreed to a target of restoring 150 million hectares of land by 2020, costing about US$18 billion each year.

In Australia, federal and state governments have several very large restoration programs targeting, in one case, the Murray-Darling Basin – to protect and restore the degraded flowing waters and wetlands of our most iconic river system – and, in another, the Great Barrier Reef – to maintain and restore the universal value of our most iconic marine ecosystem.

There is an elephant in the room

In most cases, restoration efforts aim to return ecosystems to a state closer to what they looked like in the past and how they functioned before modern society. This target is often termed an “historical baseline” .

Historical baselines are estimated from written, oral, photographic or other evidence of past conditions.

For example, restoration of an ecosystem to an historical baseline might involve removing an invasive species (such as carp) or reintroducing a locally extinct native species (such as bilbies). Historical baselines are inherently problematic, however, because estimates of what is “natural” depend on people’s perceptions, and ecosystems themselves change over time.

Environmental management often now seeks to rehabilitate, reclaim or remediate, all of which involve at best a partial move toward a past state.

The elephant in the room is that many – perhaps most – restoration projects fail to return ecosystems to a state that in any way resembles historical baselines. Governments in most countries still remain focused on management activities that are narrowly restricted to historical conditions (such as eradicating invasive species).

But management actions focused solely on historical conditions do not account for how ecosystems have changed and do not always represent the best course of action for maintaining biodiversity.

New baselines for a new world

In a new era, where anthropogenic pressures dominate, how do we set targets for restoration and conservation?

In many situations, contemporary ecosystems no longer resemble the historical condition, nor are they expected to.

In some cases, the historical condition has gone forever. For example, cities are here to stay and the Thylacine no longer exists. In others cases, the political will to reverse change (such as by removing large dams) does not exist, or else new species or conditions are now simply considered normal (for instance, trout in rivers or dingoes in the outback).

Without enormous technological advances, or alterations to the ways we manage our landscapes and natural resources, we may have to accept new types of ecosystems and their human-modified baselines.

We call these “Anthropocene baselines”. Anthropocene baselines are ecosystems or parts of biodiversity that cannot – or will not – be restored to historical conditions. They are usually caused by socio-economic and ecological (such as invasive species) constraints.

Defining these new baselines represents a shift away from using past conditions in the absence of modern society and provides a new point of reference for managing biodiversity in the Anthropocene. They recognise a reality of the modern world: humans depend on natural resources and, in many cases, biodiversity is depleted or permanently altered – but may still be used sustainably.

For example, the mouth of the Murray River has changed as a consequence of building barrages and draining inflows away from the Coorong. Connected systems are now isolated and species that were never part of the Murray mouth dominate this environment.

Given these massive changes, it is unreasonable to expect the contemporary ecosystem to respond to restoration efforts in the same way as it may have in the pre-European past.

But by delivering environmental water and minimising the effects of other human pressures, we may be able to achieve sustainability.

Should we just give up?

Anthropocene baselines do not mean we stop conserving or restoring ecosystems. Altered ecosystems have tremendous value to humans and wildlife, which must be maintained. Other environments, such as free-flowing rivers in wilderness areas, may function within historical baselines.

Anthropocene baselines should, therefore, never be used as targets for management when restoration or conservation to historical baselines is viable.

The Anthropocene acknowledges humans as part of the environment – if not the most influential part. We are therefore the problem and the solution.

Points of reference for managing nature must balance the unavoidable effects of humans, while ensuring these effects don’t cause further degradation.

This does not mean giving up, far from it. It means setting sustainable targets that include ourselves in a changing world. These new baselines will ultimately represent choices made by people. But these decisions should be guided by scientific evidence – focusing on the long-term sustainability, benefits and costs of different human activities.

The Conversation

R. Keller Kopf, Postdoctoral research fellow; Max Finlayson, Director, Institute for Land, Water and Society, and Paul Humphries, Senior lecturer in Ecology

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Pottoka Piornal ponies WE

This entry was contributed to Wild Equus by Lucy Rees, member and researcher of the Wild Equus Network (WEN). You can visit the Pottokas en Piornal website, where you will find more details about her work with the feral pottoka ponies.


Species: Equus caballus

Subspecies/Breed/Type: Pottoka (Basque Pony)

Country: Spain

Region/Province/Range: Sierra de Tormantos, Piornal (Extremadura-Caceres)

Population type: Feral

Management Authority:  Pottokas en Piornal

Estimated Population size: about 40 horses (2015)

Census August 2015

Foals 2015 m 5 (+ 1 that died) f 3

Yearlings    m 4 (b, 3n) f. 3  (d, 2n)

2 y-olds      m 1 (b)  f  4

3 & above   m 5 (b, 4s) f  15

Total 40, m 15, f 25
b= bachelor, s=stallion, n= still with natal band, d=dispersed  – 9/15 mares foaled. = 60%.

Of the 6 that did not foal, 4 were 3 y-o that foaled last year at 2, 1 is 3 y-o,  1 unknown (mare not seen for 3 months)


Details of Population

1200ha. of mountain between 700m and 1500m. , with two deep gorges. Lower-lying areas are oak wood (about 400ha) with scattered chestnut plantations, the latter mainly unavailable to the ponies. The rest is mainly high, dense heather, Spanish broom, bracken and rock, with occasional areas of grass.

Average winter temperature 2.8º; snow may cover areas over 1000m for up to a month. Average summer temperature 20.8º . Water is abundant except in dry summers when all but two springs may dry up. The ponies practice seasonal vertical migration.

The area may also be grazed by up to 600 goats. Occasional red deer, groups of fallow deer, wild boar, fox, martin, jineta, rabbits (few), walkers and cyclists share the area. No large predators.

The population was set up as an open-access study facility for equine researchers and students with non-invasive projects. All ponies can be identified individually and their life history is known. Pottokas are Basque ponies whose DNA variation corresponds to a wild, not domesticated breed. Ours have no management except culling to limit numbers.

Their social organization corresponds to other older feral populations: natal bands, home ranges (around 300ha.), natal dispersal, bachelor bands often joined by dispersing fillies. Three have tamed themselves but the rest cannot be touched although they admit close observation.

Population growth has been limited by culling. In 2014 one entire band (young stallion, old mare, her daughter and grand-daughter) were removed. In 2015 11 ponies (3 y-o stallion, 7 y-o mare, her yearling son, and 7 fillies of 1 and 2 years old were removed). The individuals were chosen to minimize social disruption, being mostly fillies in natal dispersal. To reduce possible conflicts each band was rounded up separately and the youngsters removed.

Despite apparent lack of good forage the ponies are in extremely good condition although lactating mares lose weight at the end of the summer. The ponies show an astonishing ability to self-heal even severe wounds. Parasite burden is negligible.

Structure and demographics

4 single-stallion natal bands, one bachelor band.
The population was set up in 2007/8 in Catalonia with two bands each of one stallion and three mares. On moving the population to its present location in 2011, a 3 year-old unrelated stallion was introduced.

Of the 11 foals conceived in Catalonia 9 were female. In Extremadura 20 colts and 19 fillies have been born.
Mortality:
12 y-o mare, piroplasmosis (Catalonia, 2007)
colt 6 months killed by hippies (c, 2008)
14 y-o stallion, infection from broken tooth (Extremadura, 2014)
12 y-o mare, herbicide poisoning (Extremadura, 2013)
yearling colt, eating plastic bag (E, 2014)
foal 3 weeks (E. 2015)
2 disappeared colts.

About half the fillies become pregnant as yearlings, giving a very fast-growing, female-skewed  population (see culling, below). Fillies that foal at 2 do not foal at 3. Colts begin (inefficiently) to form natal bands at 3 years old.

Issues worth noting and needed actions

a) Legal imperative to microchip, which causes stress and social disruption and is extremely difficult in practice. The European regulations allow exemption in wild or feral ponies but the Extremadura authorities do no recognize this.
b) Damage to fences and walls caused by herds of goats, whose owner refuses to use the gates, cause escapes, social disruption and conflicts with the police.

Bibliography and further reading

Genetic analysis in the basque pony-pottoka breed. Preliminary results

Genetic variability in two spanish horse populations: Preliminary results

Pottoka’s behaviour and training

El caballo al final de la última glaciación en el período postglacial

Pryor Mountain wild horses WE

This entry was contributed to Wild Equus by Dr. Jason Ransom of Colorado State University, member and specialist of the Wild Equus Network (WEN).


Species: Equus caballus

Subspecies/Breed/Type: American mustang

Country: United States of America

Region/Province/Range: Pryor Mountains – Montana

Population type: Semi feral – heavily managed

Estimated Population size: about 150 horses

Management Authority:  Bureau of Land Management

Images by Dr. Jason Ransom. Please respect © copyright!

Management Practices: 

The US Bureau of Land Management has managed this population with periodic round-ups, adopting removed horses to the public. Horses from this population are highly adoptable because many of the animals exhibit genetic relatedness to more primitive Iberian horses and often have primitive markings such as a dorsal stripe, wither bars, and leg bars. Management began using the immunocontraceptive PZP in 2003, combined with periodic removals. Management today is done in partnership with the Pryor Mountain Mustang Center, a non-profit organization dedicated to the well-being of these horses.

For more information and a blog, please see the Pryor Mountain Mustang Center website at http://www.pryormustangs.org/

Details of Population

The Pryor Mountain Wild Horse Range, located in Bighorn County, Wyoming and Carbon County, Montana, USA (latitude 45°04‘N, longitude 108°19‘W), consists of roughly 16,000 ha of low desert, foothill slopes, forested montane slopes, steep canyons, and isolated grassy plateaus. Elevations ranged from 1,175 m to 2,670 m. Vegetation types varied greatly from lower to higher elevations of the range with lower elevations dominated by sagebrush communities, mid elevations dominated by curl-leaf mountain mahogany (Cercocarpus ledifolius) and Utah juniper communities, and high elevations dominated by limber pine (Pinus flexilis), subalpine fir (Abies lasiocarpa), and alpine bluegrass (Poa alpina). Mean annual precipitation is 161.4 mm (range = 96.7–233.4 mm) and mean annual temperature is 7.1°C (range -33.9– 40.0°C). Pumas (Puma concolor) prey on foals somewhat regularly, but rate of depredation varies over time as selected for by individual pumas. Most horses here tend to migrate to higher elevations in the summer as snow melts off of subalpine meadows and then they retreat into the mid-elevations and lower desert in winter. This area was protected for horses prior to the 1971 U.S. law that designated horse ranges thanks to grassroots public interest. That interest remains today and citizens continue to monitor horses and collaborate with researchers and managers toward the stewardship of this herd.

Structure and demographics

A detailed account of demographics from 1996-2003 can be found at: Demography of the Pryor Mountain Wild Horses

This report shows that pooled across years, productivity was 0.501 foals/mare (range = 0.254–0.705) for mares ≥2 years of age, 0.576 foals/mare (range = 0.300–0.795) for mares ≥3 years of age, and 0.597 foals/mare (range = 0.311–0.795) for mares ≥4 years of age. Pooled across years, ages, and sexes (n = 2,531), the annual survival rate of horses on the study area was 0.899.

Population size has ranged over the years from 200 horses, but averages closer to 150. The horses arrange themselves into 29 to 38 bands of 2–11 horses each. Bachelors form loosely associated ephemeral bands or range independently.

Issues worth noting and needed actions

Like most populations in the USA, available habitat for horses is finite and management is necessary to protect all natural resources while attempting to balance the multiple-use mandate for the federal lands where horses live.  The science needed for more-informed management is improving, but many obstacles persist. You can read much more in the 2013 National Research Council report “Using Science to Improve the BLM Wild Horse and Burro Program: A Way Forward” Click link to view free PDF.

Bibliography and Further reading

On-going behavior and ecology research from Dr. Ransom can be followed on Twitter @wildequids

McCullough Peaks horses

This entry was contributed to Wild Equus by Dr. Jason Ransom of Colorado State University, member and specialist of the Wild Equus Network (WEN).


Species: Equus caballus

Subspecies/Breed/Type: American Mustang

Country: United States of America

Region/Province/Range: Park County – Wyoming

Population type: Semi feral-heavily managed

Estimated Population size: between 112-194 horses

Management Authority:  Bureau of Land Management -McCullough Peaks HMA

Images by Jason Ransom. Please respect © copyright!

Management Practices: 

The US Bureau of Land Management has managed this population with periodic round-ups, adopting removed horses to the public. Since 2004, management has more intensively been done using a time-released form of the immunocontraceptive PZP and periodic round-ups.

Details of Population

McCullough Peaks Herd Management Area is located Park County, Wyoming, USA (latitude 44°35‘N, longitude 108°40‘W), and consists of 44,400 ha of primarily open sagebrush steppe with badlands along the western edge. Vegetation consists of large expanses of small shrubs, grasses, and forbs. Pronghorn antelope and mule deer are sympatric with horses here and little natural depredation occurs. Elevations range from 1,200 m to 1,964 m. Mean annual temperature is 8.0°C (range -30.0– 37.8°C) and mean total annual precipitation is 271.2 mm (range=168.9–389.1 mm).

Structure and demographics

Population size reached a high of 495 horses before a large management removal in 2004, and now is maintained between 112 and 194 horses. Bands average 8 horses and many bands closely associate into herds; travelling, feeding, and resting together. At its largest population, bands with more than one stallion occurred, but are now infrequent. Bachelors form loosely associated ephemeral bands or range independently. Genetically, these horses are most related to draft breeds such as the Percheron, probably reflecting much of the early settlement activity around the old west town of Cody. Horses of all colors are in this herd, including Overo, Tobiano, and Sabino paint horses.

Issues worth noting and needed actions

Like most populations in the USA, available habitat for horses is finite and management is necessary to protect all natural resources while attempting to balance the multiple-use mandate for the federal lands where horses live.  The science needed for more-informed management is improving, but many obstacles persist. You can read much more in the 2013 National Research Council report “Using Science to Improve the BLM Wild Horse and Burro Program: A Way Forward

Bibliography and further reading

Additional details about this population, and specifically about behavior and fertility control, can be found in:

Ransom, J.I., Roelle, J.E., Cade, B.S., Coates-Markle, L., and A.J. Kane. 2011. Foaling rates in feral horses treated with the immunocontraceptive porcine zona pellucida. Wildlife Society Bulletin 35:343-352

Ransom, J.I., Cade, B.S., and N.T. Hobbs. 2010. Influences of immunocontraception on time budgets, social behavior, and body condition in feral horses. Applied Animal Behaviour Science 124:51-60

On-going behavior and ecology research from Dr. Ransom can be followed on Twitter @wildequids

Aveto horses (WE)

This entry was contributed  by Evelina Isola of WILD HORSEWATCHING – I Cavalli Selvaggi dell’Aveto.

Species: Equus caballus

Subspecies/Breed/Type: Crossbreed Bardigiano/Franches Montagne

Country: Italy

Region/Province/Range: Parco Naturale Regionale dell’AvetoLiguria (Genova)

Population type: Feral-unmanaged

Estimated Population size: <50

Header image provided by Evelina Isola and gallery pictures provided by Paola Marinari. Please respect copyright!

Details of Population

They live in Liguria, in Tigullio Gulf hinterland (30 Km from the coast, Chiavari, Genova). They live between Sturla Valley and Penna Valley and another population lives in Graveglia Valley, few km from Sturla Valley at East. The territory is a typical Apennine mountain area. The Sturla/Penna population has an area of about 15-20 Km2. Graveglia Valley population has an area of 5-6 Km2.

They are the heritage of horses working in the valley at about 20 years ago. Since the last owner died their number grew up and the new generations never had relationship with humans. They feed, reproduce, find water and whatever they need in complete autonomy.  Their biology and their behaviour seems to be the same of wild american and mongolian horses.
They represent a great treasure for the territory because of their relationship with environment and habitat conservation
In the territory lives a population of wolfs, able to control by natural predation the increasing number of heads.

Structure and demographics

5 adult stallions identified. Adult to young ratio – 3,5:1

Census and further details presently under study in collaboration with the University of Genova.

Issues worth noting and needed actions

Six years ago, humans’ intolerance caused the kill – by shot – of two horses. For some people in the valleys, horses represent a danger for their fields and breeding, because during the winter, sometimes, horses move down from the hills top to the villages looking for warmer weather and easier feeding sources. For this, in 2010 was written an agreement between local municipalities, Aveto Regional Natural Park, breeders associations, health institutions and animals’ protection associations, in order to manage herds. For this agreement horses should be captured and transfer in another locations or donate to private people. But, many animals died during capture operations, others were kept by infarct when they were putted in the boxes. Some females died during labor.

Now we are carrying out a conservation program in order to find the correct juridical classification for them. For Italian laws, in fact, horses are only classified as “farm” or “sport” animals. We are raising public awareness of their unique value, on biological and ecological point of view, and of their value as an economic resource for local-slow-rural tourism.

Galician wild ponies WE

This entry was contributed to Wild Equus by Dr.Laura Lagos, member and specialist of the Wild Equus Network (WEN).


Species: Equus caballus

Subspecies/Breed/Type: Galician wild ponies

Special note: Galician Ponies, which belong to the group of Atlantic Ponies or Garranos (Bárcena 2012). There is no evidence of this population of Garranos coming form domesticated populations, and it has even been proposed that the population of wild ponies living in the mountains of Galicia may constitute a subspecies of wild horse, Equus ferus atlanticus (Barcena, 2011). However this hypothesis needs DNA confirmation. Some individuals in the population having certain morphological characteristics have been registered as “Galician pure breed”

Country: Spain

Region/Province/Range: Sierra de A Groba (A Groba Mountain Range), Pontevedra (Galicia)

Population type: Semi feral – slightly managed (Semi-feral according to a classification based on management, wild according to their probable origin.)

Estimated Population size: estimated 850-900 ponies

Management Practices

The traditional management of the Galician ponies includes the removal of the majority of the foals in annual round ups (curro). In the past yearlings were tamed and used for transport, haulage and work in the farms. Today foals are slaughtered for meat for consumption of the local people. In this round ups the manes and tails are shared. In the Sierra de A Groba the management is a bit more intensive, thus ponies are rounded up twice a year and, in these last years during captures ponies are also dewormed and treated for external parasites. In addition, adults are also equipped with micro-chips since it was established in a Galician Decree for domestic horses.

The traditional curros and this old harvesting system of the wild horse population has a great ethnographic value. Today they are still an important social event for locals and are becoming more and more a touristic attraction.

These ponies as a general fact inhabit communal land. It consist on communal forest, called Monte Vecinal en Mano Común (MVMC), belonging to a rural community formed by a group of people living usually in a parish, each parish has their communal forest. The people who traditionally harvest the ponies are called besteiros and they usually are not the owners of the land.

Ponies in these mountains are fire branded. The president of the association has a book with all the marks; some of them have been the same for generations. They are micro chipped since 1-2 years ago.

Details of Population

The Sierra de A Groba is a mountain range, situated in the southwest of Galicia, by the see in one of the most populated areas of Galicia (164 inhabitants per km2 in the surrounding municipalities). Altitudes are between 50-650 m above sea level. The landscapes consist on scrublands dominated by gorse (Ulex europaeus, Ulex minor) and heathers (Erica sp., Calluna vulgaris) together with forest of pines (Pinus pinaster, Pinus radiata) and eucalyptus (Eucalyptus globulus) cultivated for the wood and paper industry. Cattle, sheep, and goats in some areas, are raised in these mountains. Wolves, which are the natural predators of the Galician wild ponies, were extirpated from these mountains in the seventies. The ponies live in an area of about 12,000 ha.

The characteristics of the Galician ponies are reduced size, frequently bay or black coat, curved back, big abdomen and a dense “moustache” which presumably is an adaptation to the consumption of the prickly gorse. The Galician ponies in the Sierra de A Groba are the smallest in Galicia: the average height on shoulders for mares is 119 cm. The moustache is present in about 47% of the mares. In Sierra de A Groba the ponies are called “burras”.

Structure and demographics

Removal of foals means that the sex ratio of adults is artificial and it is maintained at 40-50 mares per stallion. There are 18-20 stallions in the population. Studies on wild ponies in other mountains of Galicia indicate that foaling rate is 0,67 (Lagos 2013), however, in these mountains the habitat is rougher, consequently, the foaling rates are presumably lower.

The census is decreasing. Thirty years ago the population size was 2,000-2,500 ponies (Iglesia 1973) and only 8-10 years ago 1,500 ponies lived in these mountains. The decrease is due to the disappearance of their traditional uses of the ponies, and since 2008 due to the implementation of the regulations for micro chipping of the ponies and other measures which burden this traditional system.

Issues worth noting and needed actions

The implementation of the regulations for micro chipping of the ponies and other measures which burden this traditional system are causing a reduction of the population of ponies and many besteiros giving up this tradition that their families have continued for generations. It is necessary to have regulations adapted to the characteristics of this population of wild ponies.  At least, the exceptions contemplated by the European regulations (EC No 504/2008) for the equidae constituting defined populations living under wild or semi-wild conditions should be applied.

There is an insufficient knowledge of the biological, ecological and cultural value of this population by the managers of the land and the government. It is necessary to disseminate the importance of this population to the public, to the managers of the land and to the government.

Research is needed in order to learn what is the true importance of Galician wild ponies as key species in the habitat, as well as to improve knowledge about their genetics and ecology.

The management of this populations should be more adapted to the biology of these animals.

Bibliography and Further reading

BÁRCENA, F. 2012. Garranos: Os póneis selvagens (Equus ferus sp.) do norte da Península Ibérica. Pages 75-96 en N. Vieira de Brito y G. Candeiras (coord.), Libro de Actas del I Congresso Internacional do Garrano. Arcos de Valdevez. Portugal.

IGLESIA, P. 1973. Los Caballos Gallegos Explotados en Régimen de Libertad o Ca¬ballos Salvajes de Galicia. Tesis, Facultad de Veterinaria, Universidad Complutense de Madrid, Madrid, 1.205 p

LAGOS, L. 2013. Ecología del lobo (Canis lupus), del poni salvaje (Equus ferus atlanticus) y del ganado vacuno semiextensivo (Bos taurus) en Galicia: interacciones depredador-presa. Tesis, Universidad de Santiago de Compostela, Santiago de Compostela, 458 pp.

LAGOS, L. 2014. O sistema tradicional de aproveitamento dos ponis atlánticos salvaxes nos montes da Groba, Morgadáns e Galiñeiro. Retos no século XXI. Revista del Instituto de Estudios Miñoranos 12/13