Saving a Dying Breed: Wild Horses Who Lived on Island Face Extinction Because of Small Gene Pool
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Saving a Dying Breed: Wild Horses Who Lived on Island Face Extinction Because of Small Gene Pool

October 3, 2019

You can easily imagine a herd of horses
running up that hill. This was part of their, their life and part of their
genetic predisposition. It puts the past together with the present. Santa Cruz
Island horse is a breed of horse that came off Santa Cruz Island off the coast
of California. They were removed in the early 2000s. They were believed to have
been brought over during the Spanish conquistador period of time. When we
find groups of horses, or any type of animals generally on an island, there’s a
lot of restrictions especially in terms of genetics. However there’s only 60 of
these horses left, we’re doing research to look at how to preserve the breed for
future generations to come. It’s really important I think to come to the island
and see where the natural resources were located. So you can see why horses stayed on this side of the island. The other side, the terrain is really rugged
and the fact that the forage is such a at a short stage, then there’s a lot less
fiber in it so the horses can get more out of it, granted there’s absolutely no
water content. So that means that the horses were probably really, as we know.
efficient in terms of what they did eat and could easily maintain their body
weight. It’s actually a pretty harsh environment
but then horses are actually used to living in some very harsh environments, and can live in very harsh environments. if they’re related to the Iberian breeds like the
older genetic testing suggested then that’s a very arid, dry climate as well
so they genetically should have been adapted. We think because they were on
that island that a few of the effects that we see now, such as a gentle nature,
possibly came from the lack of no predators. Also, the size of the horse,
they are smaller horse, that also might be related to the limited amount of
nutrition that’s found when you live on an island. They’re wild, they’re gentle,
they’re intelligent, they’re trainable, they almost seem like a, like an
untouched, pristine animal. There’s about 20 horses here at El
Campeon Farms and we tried to bring in different colleagues at the university,
that specialize in reproduction genetics, and my specialty is in equine science
looking at the husbandry and management of these horses. This season for the
first time we’re doing some outcrossing, do everything we can so that this animal
survives, and not as anything other than the animal that it is today. We don’t
want to enhance its ability to jump or to run. Part of the work that I’ve done
is looking at how all their body parts blend together, then trying to find another
breed of horse that complements how these horses look. So, I’ve taken
measurements literally from head to tail and then we’ve tried to use that
information and correlate it to other stallions from these breeds like Lusitanas and Andalusians, which we believe they’re closely related to, to find
horses that complement or match up in those angles. You know everybody claims
something that’s bigger and better about their breed of horse, but the one thing
that I’ve said time and time again, and just about everybody that’s interacted
with, the Santa Cruz Island horse is how friendly they are, how gentle, how docile. It’s a piece of history of California, if we lose these genetics, we lose these horses, we
lose that history, and a piece of our heritage. So I think it’s really
important to try to preserve for future generations.

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