The big roundup in Nevada has begun. But rather than being fodder for a old-fashioned Western, this one is kicking up a fight. Yesterday the Bureau of Land Management launched its mission to capture 2,500 wild horses from public and private lands across the state.
Contractors in helicopters and on horseback herded some of the mustangs into corrals in the Black Rock Range, a chain of mountains 100 miles north of Reno, according to a spokeswoman for the Bureau of Land Management. Heather Emmons said she did not know how many horses were captured on the first day of the roundup, which will take two months and stretch across 1,750 square miles in the Calico Mountains Complex [Los Angeles Times].
Contrary to what scientists previously thought, it’s not only the power of a dog’s muscles that limits how fast the animal can accelerate; instead, it’s the need to keep those front paws on the ground and avoid doing a backflip. Although animals clearly don’t have wheels, the authors have branded this potential imbalance a quadrupedal “wheelie,” according to a study (pdf) published in the journal Biology Letters.
The ability to gain speed quickly is crucial for survival, but there’s a limit as to how rapidly an animal can accelerate. Researchers wondered whether the “wheelie” problem experienced by cars during a drag race could be a factor in four-legged animals’ ability to speed up. They came up with a simple mathematical model… to see how fast a quadruped could accelerate without tipping over backward. The model predicts that the longer the back is in relation to the legs, the less likely a dog is to flip over and the faster it can accelerate. Then the researchers tested the model by going down to the local track, London’s Walthamstow Stadium, and video-recording individual greyhounds as they burst out of the gate in time trials. The acceleration approached–but never exceeded–the limit predicted by the model [Science NOW]. That means that at low speeds, it’s the ability to keep his front end from pitching up that determines a dog’s maximum acceleration.
On the steppes of Central Asia, researchers have found evidence of the earliest “horse farm” dating from 5,500 years ago, pushing back the known domestication of horses by 1,000 years. Those first domesticated horses were probably kept primarily for meat and milk, researchers say, but soon enough new uses emerged, and horse riding revolutionized transport, communications, trade, and warfare. Says study coauthor Sandra Olsen: “To me, the domestication of the horse was a seminal event in human history…. All the major empire builders, like Alexander the Great and Genghis Khan, would have been nothing without horses” [Los Angeles Times].
The evidence of the early farm developed by the ancient Botai people of present-day Kazakhstan includes massive deposits of horse bones, grooved horse teeth that indicate the animals wore bridles, and even the chemical traces of horse milk fats in ceramic pots, says study coauthor Alan Outram. “This is, apart from being fascinating, something of a smoking gun for domestication — would you milk a wild horse?” said Outram [AP]. The people of Kazakhstan and Mongolia still milk mares today to make a fermented, slightly alcoholic drink called “koumiss.”
Madeleine Pickens, wife of the eccentric billionaire tycoon T. Boone Pickens, wants to ride to the rescue of a beleaguered national icon. The wild horses that have been an emblem of the wide-open American West for centuries more recently became a major headache for the federal government, which routinely removes some of the horses from 1o Western states to prevent overpopulation and protect grazing land. But as the Bureau of Land Management’s (BLM) holding facilities grew crowded, federal officials gingerly announced that they were considering a euthanasia program to cull the herds at their facilities and contain costs.
Pickens, a racehorse breeder and lifelong animal lover, said she was horrified when she learned about the problem. “There’s got to be a way to bypass [the BLM] — why does it have to be Washington to solve the problem?” said Pickens, who, along with her husband, airlifted 800 cats and dogs stranded by Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans and brought them to California for adoption [Washington Post]. Pickens approached BLM officials and suggested an alternative: She would buy 1 million acres of rangeland somewhere in the West, and convert it into a permanent retirement home for the roughly 30,000 homeless and unwanted horses.