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Public Radio's Environmental News Magazine (follow us on Google News)

The Living on Earth Almanac

Air Date: Week of

This week, facts about wild horses. The Kentucky Derby features some of the most well-bred equines, but in the western U.S. wild horses still roam free.


CURWOOD: May is a great month for horses.

(The race gate opens. Man: "And they're off!" Music up and under)

CURWOOD: Racing fans head to Louisville, of course, for the Kentucky Derby, while the fancy horse show crowd makes its way to Devon on Philadelphia's main line. But few people know that, when we celebrate the horse, we're celebrating one of North America's most admired endemic animals. Contrary to the notion that the Spaniards introduced horses to this continent, North America is the real birthplace of the horse. Fossil records show that the early ancestor of the modern-day horse was a cat-sized, multi-toed creature of the temperate and tropical forest.

(A cat meows)

CURWOOD: When the landscape shifted to grasslands, this first horse evolved into a larger animal with an enveloped single toe, the hoof.

(A horse whinnies)

CURWOOD: Some of these animals crossed the Bering land bridge and scattered throughout Asia, Europe, and Africa. Those that stayed in North America perished in the Ice Age. Reintroduced by the colonists and conquistadors, by 1900 there were an estimated two million wild horses roaming the nation. They are protected by federal law, but the numbers of wild horses and the places where they can run free continues to decline. Today, less than 50,000 remain. And for this week, that's the Living on Earth Almanac.



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