Here are a couple of stories that concern endangered wildlife in North America, with one detailing the extermination of wolves, which is due to begin in earnest, and the other about the round-up of thousands of wild mustang, a situation that seems to bemustangs-600 emily murdoch threatening their continued existence, or at the very least, their well-being  and right to a normal life.

The first story is an appeal posted on behalf of Frances Beinecke, President Natural Resources Defense Council over at Blogosophia, which opens with this:

The hunting and mass killing of wolves will begin soon in Idaho and Montana — and not even wolf pups and their mothers will be spared.  We cannot stand by while this slaughter unfolds. On May 4, the Interior Department stripped wolves of their federal protection, and government agents are now free to open fire.

Even worse: Idaho and Montana will soon launch public hunts targeting wolves. Hundreds of wolves could be gunned down.  When wolves lost their federal protection in 2008, 110 of them were killed in just 120 days!  NRDC is fighting in federal court to save the wolves, but it’s critically important the Obama Administration hear directly from outraged Americans like you.

I don’t really know the background to this story, or why the Interior Department has decided on this course of action – is this a much debated issue in the US ? – perhaps readers of this blog will be able to offer further insight. But I can’t imagine that wolves pose much of a serious threat to humans, unless there’s a risk of widespread rabies infection, but I do know that it has been reported from the US and elsewhere over hundreds of years at least, that there have often been hysterical and unfounded fears and purges of wolves, who for the most part, almost never attack humans. And unless they’re posing a serious threat to other mammal or faunal species, there doesn’t seem to be a logical reason for inviting a trigger-happy, gun-toting public to go on a wild shooting spree in the wilds.

The linked article goes on to add:

NRDC is fighting in federal court to save the wolves, but it’s critically important the Obama Administration hear directly from outraged Americans like you.

That’s why NRDC is expanding “The Big Howl” campaign to mobilize Americans everywhere to save wolves in the Northern Rockies from the crossfire.

Please tell the Obama Administration to call off the guns.

Call on Interior Secretary Salazar to reverse his decision to kick wolves off the endangered species list.

This is absolutely the wrong time to rip away federal protections from these struggling wolves. Over the past year, the wolf population in Yellowstone National Park has declined by 27 percent, with more than 70 percent of wolf pups succumbing to disease.

One pack alone lost all 24 of its pups!

With federal protections lifted, wolf pups and their mothers traveling outside national parks will be in the line of fire.

Because you have always stood up for wildlife, I’m contacting you now to take part in “The Big Howl” campaign.

On now to the equally mysterious news that has gradually filtered through to me over recent months, whereby tens of thousands of wild mustangs in the US have been rounded up by government officials and held in makeshift reservations, with somewhat darker revelations that many are losing their lives as a direct result.

Back in 2006, the Boston Globe ran a story, ‘Last Roundup for Wild Horses’, which begins thus:

PEOPLE KEEP comparing George W. Bush to Richard Nixon. But that’s wrong.

In 2005, President Bush signed legislation that will destroy our greatest icon — the wild horse. In 1971, President Nixon signed legislation protecting it. This was the Wild Free-Roaming Horses and Burro Act, a hard-fought bill brought to lawmakers by ”Wild Horse Annie,” a Nevada character who saw blood spilling from a truck hauling mustangs to the slaughterhouse, then dropped everything and spent the rest of her life trying to save them.

Now those trucks are revving their engines again. Starting on March 10, 7,200 wild horses in government pipelines will begin to make their way to the three horse slaughterhouses in this country — which are owned by France and Belgium.

In 1900, about 2 million wild horses roamed the West. By 1950, there were 50,000. Today, there are about 25,000 — perhaps spelling doom for the mustang. What happened? World War I, the pet food industry, and cattle ranchers, who contend that the remaining wild horses steal food from 3 million cows on the range. In the old days, they hired contractors to gun down mustangs and bring them the ears. Today, Big Beef still hires guns — politicians who set policy for the Bureau of Land Management, the agency that presided over a recent fixed grazing study yet is supposed to protect the wild horse. Now, the animal America rode in on is facing its meanest battle…

…”Wild horses and burros merit man’s protection historically,” Nixon said, ”for they are a living link with the days of the conquistadors, through the heroic times of the western Indians and pioneers, to our own day when the tonic of wilderness seems all too scarce. More than that, they merit it as a matter of ecological right — as anyone knows who has ever stood awed at the indomitable spirit and sheer energy of a mustang running free.”

Two fairly obvious thoughts occur; the first is that although larger mammals might need a broad landscape on which to survive, it’s not as if the US is short of open space, and there should be ample room for wildlife and agriculture to exist together. Furthermore, I wonder exactly how it has come to be that federal government has the final say as to which wild animal species should be exterminated at their behest, and worse, that there is apparently no organisation at a national or international level that can effectively contest or veto such excesses.

As far as I can tell, there is no prospect of an improvement for the harassed wild mustang population, and as with the wolves, I can’t imagine what possible harm they could be causing to human or beast that would warrant this bizarre persecution. It could be thought of as ironic that the horse is a creature that unwittingly played a key role in the extermination of countless thousands of indigenous Americans at the hands of invading Europeans, only to find itself under threat from the very descendants of those who overran the entire continent.

On a slightly/greatly less relevant note, I’d even suggest that in a situation where nations are guzzling untold amounts of fossil fuels that will inevitably run out, and motorised transport might one day be a thing of the past, keeping aside a plentiful supply of horses might be a prudent way of ensuring that humans won’t have to walk everywhere in a future world when no other means of transport are available. A similar thought crossed my mind when watching a recent Archaeology Channel video, in which the demise of the sailing ship as an instrument of trade was detailed – it might have disappeared for now, in the face of competition from iron ships running errands on fossil fuels – but give it a hundred, maybe two hundred years, and who knows, people might then be riding their horses down to the docks to greet the sailing ships ferrying in goods from afar – with not a remaining drop of oil, puff of gas or lump of coal to be had for love nor money.

These linked stories of wolves and wild mustangs might not have an immediately anthropological perspective, but where humankind embarks on the wanton destruction of any aspect of the environment, that once gone, can never be replaced, it’s worth asking what, if anything, the field of anthropology can do to draw on its knowledge of extinction events in the past to persuade modern-day policy makers and corporations that it’s actually in our own interests to ensure that where possible, our wildlife is allowed to thrive rather than merely survive piecemeal in parcels of land lacking adequate resources or protection.