Part 5 – What Makes A Horse Worthy?

Our Battle with E&P – Part 5

What Makes A Horse Worthy?

There’s a question for you. What makes a horse worthy? There are as many different answers, as different people. Do they have to be pretty, or come from long established bloodlines? Do they have to be registered in some man established registry? Do they have to be warm bloods, or cold bloods, or hot bloods? Do they have to be fast, or slow, docile or spirited? Do they have to have big expressive gaits, or long wavy manes and tails with feathers around their feet? To me, they just have to be. That makes them worthy. They already all come from long established bloodlines, dating back millions of years. Long before you or I were here, and long before people started judging them as being worthy or not.

Help Alberta Wildies (HAW) has withdrawn from future participation in group advocacy. The reasons for doing this have not been disclosed publicly. HAW says it will continue to offer aerial support to wild horse advocates, when possible and required. HAW’s future support will be in the background and on a smaller scale.

HAW has recently released news that it has partnered with equine conservationist Victoria Tollman of Central Registry Service Group (CRSG), and Dr. Gus Cothran, from Texas A&M University. HAW intends to gather at least 100 samples of DNA from captured wildies to send to Dr. Cothran to determine the genetic heritage and uniqueness of the Alberta Wildies.

I commented on the HAW page that in order to get a true sampling of our wildies, samples should be taken from all 6 Equine Zones and from as many different horses as possible, and not just from the captured wildies that are scattered throughout Alberta. Most of those horses are from the Sundre Zone and are probably related. The wider the variance, the more accurate the test results will be. My comment generated a response from Dr. Jocelyn Poissant, informing me that his team was, in fact, doing just that.

Dr. Jocelyn Poissant, researcher of the University of Calgary is also collecting DNA samples from our Alberta Wildies. Dr. Poissant has also done genetic research on the Sable Island Horses. This is what was posted on the University of Calgary’s website:

• Dr. Poissant joined the HPI group as a post-doctoral fellow in July 2014. He is working under the supervision of Dr. John Gilleard in the Department of Comparative Biology and Experimental Medicine, Faculty of Veterinary Medicine at the University of Calgary, and Dr. Philip McLoughlin in the Department of Biology at the University of Saskatchewan. Dr Poissant is originally from Montréal, where he obtained a B.Sc. in Ecology at the University of Québec at Montréal in 2000. He then obtained a M.Sc. from the University of Guelph in 2004 where he worked on brook trout landscape genetics and a Ph.D. from the University of Alberta in 2011 where he worked on bighorn sheep evolutionary quantitative genetics and genomics. He came to Calgary after spending 2 years at the University of Sheffield (UK) where he worked on great tit evolutionary genetics as an NSERC and Marie Curie postdoctoral fellow. Dr. Poissant is supported in part by NSERC CREATE HPI.

• Dr. Poissant is an empirical evolutionary geneticist combining fieldwork with molecular and quantitative genetic approaches to understand how evolutionary forces such as natural and sexual selection interact with genetic variation to shape phenotypic diversity in wild vertebrate populations. His main research project, conducted in close collaboration with Dr. Philip McLoughlin from the University of Saskatchewan, focuses on the ecology, evolution and conservation of wild (feral) horses from Sable Island National Park Reserve in Nova Scotia.

• In the Gilleard’s lab, Dr. Poissant is developing molecular methods to characterize individual-level variation in gut nematode communities in horses (the equine ‘nemabiome’). These tools will then be applied in Sable Island horses to understand the impact of gut parasites on host health and life history in wild long-lived vertebrates.

Dr. Poissant’s research on the Sable Island Horses will be targeting projects concerning four inter-related themes of research. These themes address fundamental and applied projects on (I) Population ecology; (II) Inter-species interactions and community ecology; (III) Population genetics; and (IV) Parasitism, disease, and health of Sable Island horses.

There are many aspects to Dr. Poissant’s research regarding the Sable Island Horses. One of those aspects is the relationship between grey seals and the horses. Grey seals congregate on the tips of the Island to give birth to their pups. As a result of this congregation, the seals enrich the soil with nitrogen, which in turn feeds plant life, which in turn draws the horses. Horses then spread nitrogen throughout the Island with their droppings. If you remove one, does everything collapse or improve? Another aspect of this research is nematode related, or worm levels and their variations, and what effect, if any, does that have on the eco-system.

The Sable Island Horses are a unique herd, in that they are completely isolated, and they have received no medications. The last man-introduced horse to the Island was in 1935. Our Alberta Wildies differ considerably to the Sable Island Horses. According to Environment & Parks, all Alberta Wildies are domesticated escaped barnyard horses. Each and every wild horse on our Public Lands, were deemed unworthy of being kept by their owners, and when their use to their owners was over, they were thrown away in the wilderness of Alberta. This apparently occurred in the early 1900’s. All of these escapees and unworthy throw away horses would have therefore received medications. It will be interesting to see what difference there has been in the evolution of gut nematode communities between Sable Island Horses and our Alberta Wildies.

I, in no way, point any fingers at Dr. Poissant, the University of Calgary, or the University of Saskatchewan. Dr. Poissant is a researcher who has been carrying on these types of studies for many years. I do, however, point a finger at the other Partners of this study, and how they will use, or abuse, the information provided by Dr. Poissant, as it relates to our wild horses.

Those Partners are, the Alberta Conservation Association, whose Member organizations include the Alberta Fish & Game Association, the Alberta Trapper’s Association and the Alberta Professional Outfitters Society, two of them, members of the Feral Horse Advisory Committee, and all pro-slaughter, pro-cull wildies. Further Partners are, Agriculture Canada, Environment and Parks and WHOAS, also pro-slaughter or pro-cull. You will note, that I’ve included WHOAS in that statement. WHOAS actively and willingly participates in culls and has recently refused to take in a young mare from this year’s cull, after she became too much for her adopter to handle. WHOAS knew that she was destined for auction and slaughter, and did nothing to help the mare. WHOAS claim they cannot take in a horse that has been in contact with domesticated horses, due to the threat of disease to the wild horses at their adoption facility. WHOAS does not answer the question of why they take in dozens of wild horses that have been at the auction house, a well known hothouse of disease and parasite infections. I sure would like these people to get their stories straight!

Why would this mix of groups partner up, and why would they be interested in our wild horses? Could they be looking for a way to finally say the wild horses are “diseased” as they have so many times before, but this time, provide research data to try and give some justification for eradicating the wild horses? Certainly, no research data was needed, or provided in the past. Culls are issued simply to rid Alberta of any horses on Public Lands, claiming the wild horses damage the grasslands. All without any proof of such claim, of course.

All animals have worms. Deer, elk, moose, cattle, skunks, gophers, etc., but this particular study only focuses on the wild horses. It will be very interesting to see how the Partners of this study, use the information of genetics and parasite infestation. If their past performance is an indicator, my guess would be that this is the next round of the wildies are “infected” and have to be culled, or the world as we know it, will end.

All of this information, and how it is going to be used, just brings up more questions. My original question was, “What Makes A Horse Worthy?” I suppose I now have to add in, do genetics make a horse worthy? Does worming make a horse worthy? Do worms from our wild horses cause more disease or damage to animals and grasslands, than worms from all other animals? Those answers should be coming soon, and I suspect, to be used in conjunction with another cull of our Alberta Wild Horses.

Here’s another question. Does anyone see a conflict of interest here? If you do, contact Environment and Parks.

 

Minister Shannon Phillips
323 Legislature Building
10800 97 Avenue
Edmonton, AB
Canada T5K 2B6
Phone: (780) 427-2391
Email: AEP.Minister@gov.ab.ca
Deputy Minister Bill Werry
Environment and Parks
915 – 108 Street
Edmonton, AB
T5K 2G8
Phone (780) 427-1799
Email: bill.werry@gov.ab.ca
Shannon Flint, Assistant
Deputy Minister Policy Div.
Environment and Parks
11th Fl. Petroleum Plaza St.
9915 – 108 Street
Edmonton, AB
T5K 2G8
Phone: (780) 422-8463
Email: shannon.flint@gov.ab.ca
Helen Newsham Section Head
Rangeland Integration Section
Environment and Parks
4th Fl. Great West Life Bldg.
9920 – 108 Street
Edmonton, AB
T5K 2M4
Phone: (780) 427-4764
Email: helen.newsham@gov.ab.ca

 

July 17, 2015