The big mare band grazes on top of a hill on the sanctuary, as seen from the rimrocks that rise above the eastern edge of the ranch. In the farther distance are our neighbors' cattle, grazing a BLM allotment north of the ranch.
Disappointment Valley finally got rain!
From left to right: Two Boots, Ember, Smudge, Gideon and Johnnie.
Howdy from Disappointment Valley, Colorado!
My name is TJ, and I live on the sanctuary, where I have the great privilege of caring for our herd of mustangs. I'm going to start sharing stories and photos of our mustangs to give ya'll a closer look at how they live and thrive here in the high desert of Southwest Colorado, right near the original home range of many of them: Spring Creek Basin.
The last blog post was published about a year ago, right after we got Kreacher - now a gelding - back from BLM.
You might wonder how Kreacher got his name, so let's start there; it's a story that goes back to 2007, after the first roundup I ever witnessed. Actually, to get to that point, it might be prudent to explain how I got here - not only here at the sanctuary but here on this journey of mustang advocacy, which started in Spring Creek Basin.
In 2007, I was a journalist, the editor of a weekly newspaper in the region. I had been visiting the mustangs of Spring Creek Basin since 2002, when I first found out that a herd of wild horses - WILD HORSES! - lived just a couple of hours away from Durango.
Right before the 2007 roundup, I found out about a group of volunteer advocates who specifically focused on the Spring Creek Basin herd. I attended the roundup wearing two hats: a new one, as someone who had just found out the complicated, never-black-and-white issues surrounding wild-horse-and-burro management on America's public lands ... and one as a journalist, which gave me not only a reason to ask questions but the courage to do so in a situation that terrified me for the horses.
Wearing my journalist's hat, with a lifetime of experience with horses under it, I asked one of the BLM people this question: "Why do you do it this way - chase the horses with helicopters?" The BLM employee confidently replied, "Because it's the only way to do it."
That answer angered me, but I dutifully quoted him.
Then I set out to prove him wrong. ... And I did.
Within a month, at two other herd management areas - Little Book Cliffs Wild Horse Range and Pryor Mountain Wild Horse Range - and from other volunteer advocates, I learned about documentation, fertility control in the form of a vaccine called PZP and an alternative to helicopters called bait trapping.
Documentation is the necessary first step. You have to know WHAT you're managing before you can expect to manage it effectively. That includes numbers, but it really means a whole lot more.
PZP stands for porcine zona pellucida. It is a vaccine given to mares in order to prevent conception for one year. BLM says it has an overpopulation problem; what it really has is a reproduction issue. If you can slow the rate of reproduction, your management plan becomes proactive (keeping the population of horses balanced with the resources of their range), not reactive ("overpopulation" and the need to round 'em up and remove 'em). It's worth noting here that a population of animals is sustained by the resources on their range, thus the range itself is infinitely important. Wild horse and burro herds are managed in specific areas; Spring Creek Basin is fenced. It is our responsibility to manage the mustangs as they are thus enclosed and depending on the finite resources within that "enclosure" - whether it's 22,000 acres (like Spring Creek Basin) or 220,000 acres or 2.2 million acres.
Bait trapping is just what it sounds like: Baiting or luring horses to a trap, NOT chasing them, terrified, into said trap. With documentation, horses to be removed - perhaps those with the best chance of adoption to good homes - can be identified ahead of the operation and may be removed with very little trauma and stress, either to them or to the horses that will not be removed.
Since immediately after the 2007 roundup, I've been documenting the Spring Creek Basin mustangs. At the 2011 roundup, BLM agreed to implement a PZP program in Spring Creek Basin. When needed in the future, BLM agrees that bait trapping likely can and will work in Spring Creek Basin.
At the end of 2011, because of my extensive experience with the Spring Creek Basin mustangs, I was invited to truly dedicate my life to the well-being of mustangs - especially these in Disappointment Valley. I wake up grateful every single beautiful day, right here in Disappointment Valley, on our mustang sanctuary, surrounded by magical wild.
With other local volunteer advocates, I continue to work with our BLM herd manager in partnership for the benefit of the Spring Creek Basin herd. And here on the Serengeti ranch, we provide lifelong sanctuary to 33 mustangs removed from Spring Creek Basin and some other herd management areas in the West.
One of those 33 horses is Kreacher's son Phoenix, named for his sire's second chance at having a good life in relative freedom.
With deep gratitude, I am so proud to help carry on this commitment for the Serengeti Foundation. We make a positive impact in the lives of each of these beautiful, amazing mustangs.
And how did Kreacher get his name? When I first laid eyes on Kreacher, he - I didn't immediately realize that he was a stallion - was with two other horses, and I thought (rather uncharitably, I admit), "What an ugly, mulelike creature." He was fairly young, and a bit potbellied, and I actually thought he was a mare. Then I realized that he was the stallion and the two horses with him were his mares. But "creature" stuck - in the form of the spelling of J.K. Rowling's not-so-nice house elf Kreacher. Over time and knowing him through the years of losing those mares, becoming a bachelor, gaining a new band, losing a mare, getting her back, losing them again and being a bachelor until his "escape" from the basin and subsequently onto the ranch, I had become very fond of him. Through his rough ordeal of having to be caught here and taken by BLM to the short-term holding facility near Cañon City, I have pitied him. Watching him regain his footing - and gain a new family - I have been very proud of him.
And now you know that part of the story. :)
In the photo at the top of this post, Kreacher is the grey at left. Two of his mares, buckskin Elamae and pinto Hacho, are in front of him, but he's looking at his favorite mare, Mahogany, who was visiting with another band nearby. He did get her back very soon after that photo was taken. Ladies, take note: Kreacher, who is about 12, likes his young mares - Elamae is 2, and Hacho is 5 - but his very favorite girl is THIRTY YEARS OLD. She's pretty full of spice, and she keeps him on his toes, but he's always closest to her.
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