Sundre, Alberta – The horses that roam wild in the foothills of west-central Alberta may have a Russian connection.
DNA testing has been done on 44 of the animals and early results show the presence of an ancient Russian breed, but also a connection to draft horses.
A spokesman for an organization working to protect the horses says the tests show no link to the Canadian horse breed or to Spanish mustangs.
Darrell Glover of Help Alberta Wildies says it’s unclear how Russian horses got mixed in, but there are a couple of theories.
He points out the Russians ran a fur trade in Alaska in the 1700s, so it’s possible Alberta’s wild horses have links that go back at least 300 years.
Another theory is that Russian horses may have come across a land bridge even before that.
“We’ve got something here. They might be quite ancient,” Glover said.
His group is investigating further and it plans to contact a Russian scientist. A scientific paper on the DNA results is to be published.
As for the draft horse connection, he said, a lot of horses were released into the wild at the beginning of the 20th century.
The Alberta government, which has authorized roundups of the horses to keep their numbers down, says they are feral descendants of domestic horses that do not have special protection.
Some of the horses rounded up under special licences are sold for personal use, but many are sent to slaughter.
The Wild Horses of Alberta Society, another group that supports the horses, has saved some of them by buying them and adopting them out.
The society has also completed the first year of a five-year pilot project to control the population by darting mares with a contraceptive vaccine.
The province is working to develop a long-term population management program for the animals.
The latest count showed there were 851 wildies, down from 880 in 2015.
The Canadian Press