THE WILD HORSE IS NATIVE TO NORTH AMERICA
By Ross MacPhee, PhD, Curator – Division of Vertebrate Zoology, American Museum of Natural History, New York, NY
It needs to be more widely understood that the horse’s status as a native North American species is beyond serious question.
A “native” species, in evolutionary terms, is defined as one that differentiated or diverged from its immediate ancestor species within a specific geographical locale. The contemporary wild horse in the United States is recently derived from lines domesticated in Europe and Asia. But those lines themselves go much further back in time, and converge on populations that lived in North America during the latter part of the Pleistocene (2.5M to 10k years ago).
The morphological (fossil) evidence and the more recent DNA evidence (although preliminary), points to the same conclusion: the species Equus caballus—the species encompassing all domestic horses and their wild progenitors—arose on this continent.
The evidence thus favors the view that this species is “native” to North America, given any rational understanding of the term “native”. By contrast, there are no paleontological or genetic grounds for concluding that it is native to any other continent.
From a scientific standpoint, it is completely irrelevant that native horses died out in North America 10,000 years ago, or that later populations were domesticated in central Asia 6000 years ago. Such considerations have no bearing on their status as having originated on this continent.
Reintroduction of horses to North America 500 years ago is, biologically, a non-event: horses were merely returned to part of their former native range, where they have since prospered because ecologically they never left.
( Editor’s Note: PLEASE USE this IMPORTANT information when communicating with legislators, media, educating people new to the issue of BLM roundups of wild horses, and also the same information is pertinent for Canadian wild horses at risk.)
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“Traditional Dakota/Lakota people firmly believe that the aboriginal North American horse did not become extinct after the last Ice Age, and that it was part of their precontact culture.
Scientists know from fossil remains that the horse originated and evolved in North America, and that these small 12 to 13 hand horses or ponys (sic) migrated to Asia across the Bering Strait, then spread throughout Asia and finally reached Europe. The drawings in the French Laseaux caves, dating about 10,000 B.C., are a testimony to their long westward migration. Scientists contend, however, that the aboriginal horse became extinct in North America during what is (known) as the “Pleistocene kill,” in other words, that they disappeared at the same time as the mammoth, the ground sloth, and other Ice Age mammals. This has led anthropologists to assume that Plains Indians only acquired horses after Spaniards accidentally lost some horses in Mexico, in the beginning of the XVIth (16th) century, that these few head multiplied and eventually reached the prairies.
Dakota/Lakota Elders as well as many other Indian nations contest this theory, and contend that according to their oral history, the North American horse survived the Ice Age, and that they had developed a horse culture long before the arrival of Europeans, and, furthermore, that these same distinct ponys (sic) continued to thrive on the prairies until the latter part of the XIXth (19th) century, when the U.S. government ordered them rounded up and destroyed to prevent Indians from leaving the newly-created reservations. Although there is extensive evidence of this massive slaughter, no definitive evidence has yet been found to substantiate the Elders’ other claim, but there are a number of arguments in favour of the Indian position.”
CLICK HERE for Scientific Paper Entitled: The Aboriginal North American Horse.