Friday, November 1, 2013

Wild Horse Scientists

Just this past summer, I had a personal experience that really helped me to build schema for this book.  As a result, I devoured this book. 

On a Sunday evening, a friend called who had just arrived at her vacation rental in Ocean City, Maryland.  She was vacationing with her family, her sister’s family, her brother, and her father.  Her brother and father were planning to leave on Tuesday and even with all of those people in the house, there was still an extra room on its own floor.  She was calling to ask if we would like to join them on vacation for the remainder of the week.  As luck would have it, I didn’t have any other plans for the week (that is quite rare for me) so I planned to start packing and be down with two kids in tow on Wednesday.  The next day, she called to ask if we would like to join them on a boat trip called “Assateague Adventures.”  As I felt we were already “crashing” their vacation, I was up for whatever was already on the agenda.  We were along for the ride, literally and figuratively.  And I’m so glad we went.  Unlike my friend’s sister, I had not read “Misty of Chincoteague,” so I wasn’t really familiar with the wild horses of Maryland and Virginia.  Through my experience with my friend’s sister and the tour itself, I learned a lot that helped me understand everything I was reading in “Wild Horse Scientists.”  Basically, there are two methods of population control for wild horses.  Well, there were three, but now there are two. 
1)    On the Virginia side of Assateague Island (which I had mistakenly come away from the tour thinking WAS Chincoteague – it is the Chincoteague National Wildlife Refuge, a “pony swim” takes place where saltwater cowboys drive the ponies across a channel to Chincoteague, Virginia, where the ponies are up for auction.  Some implications of this method are that horses tend to have more foals when their ponies are taken away as opposed to when they are raising their own offspring.
2)    Out West, on the Pryor Mountain Wild Horse Range in Montana, there used to be “gathers” sponsored by the Bureau of Land Management.  These gathers involved a roundup by cowboys with the assistance of helicopters.  Then once rounded up, some of the horses would be removed for adoption.  These methods were deemed inhumane and a new method was needed for population control as the wild horses have no natural predators in the areas in which they were living.
3)    PZP, the method being adopted out west after being piloted on the Maryland side of Assateague island, involves darting the horses with birth control that mimics injecting the horses with a porcine (pig’s) embryo casing tricking the horse’s system.  The method was deemed to be 95-100% effective.  Mares are tending to live longer not going through the stress of delivering many foals over a lifetime. 

For me, seeing the photographs of the horses was really great because on the day that we visited the island, there were no horses to be seen, which can be expected when dealing with wild animals.  Interestingly to me was seeing the photographs of people in the parking lot and the brazenness of the horse’s there.  For starters, I thought the only way to visit the island was on this sort of guided tour that allowed you to visit for a short time and leave the habitat as undisturbed as possible.  But it seems you can visit the island and even camp there.  I’ll have to look into that the next time we “crash” a vacation in Ocean City, MD.

The question of how the horses got to Assateague Island still remains a bit of a mystery with two answers.  And maybe both are true. 
1)    The horses ended up on the island after a shipwreck.
2)    The horses were released by colonists who would have been taxed on fencing to keep the horses penned in.  By releasing them on an island, they avoided taxation and still kept the horses contained.  The original offshore banking!

Overall, the information was laid out in a very logical way for the reader and connections were made between the two different locations that were most featured: Assateague Island and Pryor Mountain Wild Horse Range.  The photographs of the rangers help the readers to imagine the difficulty of the job to let wild animals live undisturbed while also protecting them from their own overpopulation which would result in less food and water for the herd and more struggle for survival.  Kay Frydenborg does a great job of engaging the reader and telling the story of the wild horses and the scientists who have studied them over the years.

Wild Horse Scientists
ISBN: 978-0-547-51831-2
Published 2013 by Houghton Mifflin
I borrowed this copy from my public library to read and review.

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