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Central Alberta’s wild horse population on the decline; predators on the prowl

Help Alberta Wildies Society maintain 75 trail cameras to keep track of wild horses
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Help Alberta Wildies Society posts videos and photos of the wild horses they work to save and protect. (Photo from Help Alberta Wildies Society on Facebook)

Central Alberta’s declining wild horse population continues to be under attack from wildlife predators.

Two videos posted recently by Help Alberta Wildies Society (HAWS) showed a grizzly bear chasing a band of horses and wolves circling to attack. Both times the horses survived.

Darrell Glover, founder and president of Help Alberta Wildies Society (HAWS), said periodically the society’s network of 75 trail cameras in the Williams Creek area, about 32 km southwest of Sundre, will capture life-threatening moments for the horses.

“Our mortality rate has been horrendous for the last few years due to predation. We have the wolves. We have cougars, and a fair number of bears,” Glover said.

About two weeks ago a grizzly, which can run up to 40 km/h, was caught on video during his pursuit, about five seconds behind the horses.

“A bear can run flat out like that for about two miles, and so can the horses. It’s just a matter of who gives up first.”

A video of six wolves moving in on a band of horses showed a stallion chasing off the wolves.

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Glover said in the last five years there’s about 400 fewer wild horses in the equine management zones of the foothills where there is an estimated 1,200 horses.

“There’s still a lot of people out there that believe the wild horse population is skyrocketing. The truth is probably about eight per cent of the actual foals born every year make it to the next spring. That’s pretty low considering you still have older horses dying off.”

HAWS was formed in 2014 in an effort to end the culling of wild horses, which has since stopped, and prove that horses have natural predators.

“We use this kind of footage to debunk the myths and try to displace the misinformation that’s been so prevalent over the years. Videos like this really do that. They go viral.”

HAWS Facebook page has 358,000 followers where video updates are posted regularly. The group keeps track of the health of the herds, and the birth and mortality rate.

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Glover said the purpose of posting videos of predators is not to demonize bears or wolves, but to show people the truth and help them to better understand the plight of the wild horse.

He said some people insist that wild horses are an invasive species that run elk off and impacts hunting.

“We disproved that with trail cam video showing the wild horses and elk eating side-by-side all the time.”

He said poaching wild horses is another problem that continues, along with industry and recreation development. Ranchers have also raised concerns about wild horses eating grass on Crown land where cattle graze, but data shows the impact from horses is minimal.

HAWS videos and research tell the real story and the volunteer group has no intention of slowing down anytime soon, Glover said.

“There are a lot of people now who really, really love the horses. There are professional photographers out there every day looking for them. They have become quite humanized. Most of them are named now.”



szielinski@reddeeradvocate.com

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Susan Zielinski

About the Author: Susan Zielinski

Susan has been with the Red Deer Advocate since 2001. Her reporting has focused on education, social and health issues.
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