I spend a lot of time scribbling lists of horses and drawing colour-coded family trees. Not (just) because I’m OCD, but because I strongly feel that one of the most important management strategies in wildlife, including the Pryor Mustangs, is Pedigree Management.
To clarify, what I mean by “pedigree management” is factoring in genetic diversity and bloodline representations when conducting removals and administering contraceptives. More complicated? Sure. Vital? Absolutely.
Horses are a fantastic model species for this form of management. Unlike deer, elk and bison, horses are highly individualized in appearance. A wide range of coat colours and a multitude of possible markings ensures that few horses look the same, and hardly any look identical to the familiar eye.
It isn’t enough to simply look at the immediate parents. Pedigree management should also look at the representation of the ancestors, ie. the bloodlines, of an individual horse. The representation of the horse’s bloodlines must be considered when it comes to management decisions.
Thankfully, this form of management is considered, to a degree, in the Pryors. A notable flaw, however, is that Paternal lines are rarely given much weight. This is very dangerous when it comes to preserving a species. I understand that, without genetic testing, it is nearly impossible to guarentee paternity (just think of all of those milkman jokes), however, in many cases it is almost certain. Not only is the Pryor Herd closely monitored, but many mares are very loyal to their stallions. And a stallion in his prime isn’t going to let another stallion breed his mares without a serious fight. Some stallions “stamp” their offspring, others pass on rarer colour genes. Some offspring just simply look like Dad.
For an example of how important paternity can be, consider that Winnemucca has only foal left on the range. That foal is Doc, a stallion. If we don’t consider the paternity of Doc’s offspring, we could very easily leave Winnemucca with no descendants on the range after such a long, successful life.
Sadly, we live in a world where artificial management has become necessary. What we must strive for is to minimize the negative impacts of this management.