Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Wild Musings, Equine Coat Colour










Blue Wildebeest, Kruger National Park, South Africa
Photo credit:  Chris Eason


Sorraia Stallion Altamiro (Ultrajado x Pompeia) showing stripes and wrinkles
Photo:  Lynne Gerard

This journal entry was started in January, but I never managed to finish it in time.  Now February is nearly over and the deep chill that teased occasionally in January has settled in with determination and definitely overstayed its welcome.  All of Manitoulin Island's inhabitants are waiting for more moderate temperatures (enough with dipping to minus 40ºC!) and dreaming of pleasant breezes replacing these mean bitter February winds.  Snowed in here at Ravenseyrie, yet with satellite internet holding up, seems a good time to finish this January entry and publish it before February slides on by.

From last month:

After having been nearly minus thirty at dawn, late in the day the thermometer had swelled upward to -13ºC with glorious sunshine on a day near January's end.  If you knew where to look, you would find this woman (your author) sitting in the snow, leaning against a tree in the horses favourite windbreak, musing...

Her thoughts are disjointed - yet persistent - and flit about, as if they are almost about to grasp a remarkable notion, but cannot yet find a way to adequately express them.  It may be that this woman is simply mentally unstable... 

The wind sings through the treetops, but does not penetrate this sheltered spot.  Sun soothing reverie loosens the mind further...

Thoughts and images...Pleistocene cave art, Equus ferus, Tarpan,  the Zebro, Sorraia, Sorraia Mustang, black dun/grulla/mouse-grey, Peter, Ben K. Green, the unidentifiable "dun" gene, thick hides, wrinkles and stripes, hue variations,  musk ox, wildebeest, caribou, bison - there are shared characteristics in wild mammal pelages that seem outwardly obvious.  



Altamiro, nearly concealed in the forest


Through spruce branches I admire the Sorraia stallion, Altamiro, perfectly blending in the surrounding forest as he enjoys an offering of dried summer.   





Off to the right, less concealed is the wonderful draft mule, Jerry (Uncle Jerry to the Sorraia colts), his bright sorrel colour is enhanced by the sun.  Likewise, the domestic bred ex-Thoroughbred race horse, Zeus, starkly contrasts with the forest.  This lovely sorrel colour is not one that is typical of wilderness creatures, at least not in Northern Ontario.

Thoroughbred gelding, Zeus and Sorraia stallion, Altamiro

Sorraia stallion, Legado

Reindeer in Northern Finland
Photo credit:  Laplaender



Young Barren-Ground Caribou, Ukkusiksalic National Park, Nunavet
Photo credit:  Ansgar Walk



Winter hair coat photos on colts of the Ravenseyrie Sorraia Mustang Preserve:










"The dun coloration is probably the wild phenotype in horses depending on its occurrence in Przewalski horses as well as in some primitive horse breeds (e.g. Exmoor Pony, Konik, Icelandic Horses, Norwegian Fjords, Sorraia).  But the proof of this assumption is still open."  --Cieslak et al., 2010




Winter pelage of a Sorraia colt at Ravenseyrie


American Bison
Photo credit:  Jairo S. Feris Delgado

Sorraia colt Destemido at the Ravenseyrie Sorraia Mustang Preserve
Photo:  Lynne Gerard


Musk Oxen near Nome
Photo Credit:  Bering Land Bridge National Preserve


From today:

There has been and continues to be a great deal of scientific research into the colour genetics in equine coat colours, yet the gene responsible for the dun colouration continues to elude identification.    As I sit, contemplating things I do not understand, I nevertheless soak in the sensations and sights of the wilderness surrounding me and cannot help but wonder if scientists have thought, as I do, about the similarities in the hide strength and coat colours of dun horses (both bay dun and black dun) and wild mammals such as the caribou, musk ox, bison and wildebeest?  Might a comparative study of these pelages and hide types provide insight into the mystery of the dun gene?




Blue Wildebeest, Tanzania
Photo Credit:  Nevil Dilmen


American Plains Bison
Photo credit:  Matt Reinbold

Black Wildebeest, Thoiry Zoo
Photo credit:  Vassil

Blue Wildebeest, Tanzania
Photo credit:  Nevil Dilmen

Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Let the Earth Decide



Sunrise: White Pine between The Birches at Ravenseyrie





"To know the pine, go to the pine.  To know the bamboo, go to the bamboo."
                                                                                             --Basho



Since the first days of taxonomic records (esteemed evolutionary biologist Ernst Mayr credits Aristotle with being the progenitor of taxonomic classification), it seems there have been conflicting opinions regarding whether horses roaming the landscapes were truly wild or represented feral landraces derived from domestic stock.  Early study relied upon anecdotal accounts, ethological observations, morphological comparisons, cursory dissection, i.e. that which could be seen and experienced externally or with superficial anatomy, and most of the time taking into account the habitat where one's subject was originally found.  Present day study gives itself almost entirely over to the internal characteristics of the equine genome.  What once was the authorship of philosophers, naturalists and field biologists is supplanted now by discoveries being made in the "sexy" domain of molecular genetics.

Beautiful light over the Twinravens range where our Sorraia mares now live.

It has been nearly a decade since I felt the "call" to assist in the preservation of the Sorraia and Sorraia Mustang horses.  I was naively oblivious when I first began to study more intricately the history and biology of these enigmatic equines that there are such conflicting perceptions of where this Tarpan-type horse fits into the overall understanding of wild horses.  I continue to research and evaluate what others have to say regarding the Sorraia, the Tarpan and other present day equines that bear the characteristics of those evocative cave paintings rendered by prehistoric humans, but I no longer believe there will be a unified consensus of the important role this type of horse plays in conservation paradigms.  What is particularly bothersome, however, is that the Sorraia (whose recovery from near extinction is remarkably similar to that of the Konik horse) is too frequently erroneously discounted as being a repository of ancient wild horse genetics based on limited interpretations of phylogenetic research (Lira, et. al, 2009).


The Sorraia filly, Esperanda...looking like she is stalking prey.


There are enough problems with using molecular genetics to prove or disprove ancestral relatedness (Hillis1987, Roger & Hug 2006, Grechko 2012, Moreira & Phillippe 2000, Cummings & Meyer 2006, Zander 2013, Weins 2005 to name a few...) that I find it inappropriate for assumptions to be made about the Sorrraia's origins based on this alone.  I am especially flummoxed that most recently the Sorraia has been overlooked as a candidate for rewilding programs taking place in Europe.  (Linnartz & Meissner, 2014)   This unfortunate situation is something I am looking into, for I find it unfathomable that the Sorraia has been so inappropriately marginalized, when they (and their Sorraia Mustang counterparts) meet the criteria listed in the Rewilding Horses in Europe / Background and Guidelines document and have proven themselves in semi-wild environments (Vale de Zebro/Portugal) and (Ravenseyrie Sorraia Mustang Preserve/Canada).  There may be no more horse type in need of a boost from inclusion in rewilding programs than the Sorraia and Sorraia mustang who continue to be precariously close to extinction, moreso than any other wild horse type listed in the document cited above. 

Full sisters Altavida and Pinoteia (by Sorraia stallion Altamiro) with their dam, Bella, on the right 

Whether or not it represents a "prehistoric relic", a "true wild" horse, or a "feralized manmade breed" matters very little to those Sorraias that are living in the wilderness.  They don't care about their past, nor do they worry what scientists and conservationists think of them...they live in the now and they dance among the myriad of wild things that know them as equals in their shared habitat.  The grasses don't need a consensus, the wind blowing over lichen covered rocks aren't conflicted in their appraisal of the equines galloping by and the Ravens flying overhead look upon them as blessed large herbivores restored to their rightful place.  Let the Earth decide such things, not the scientists.  What lives and thrives and in due course dies in the wilderness spaces of our Great Mother Earth (and if given enough habitat for its need can carry on without the persistent manipulations of humans) sings the song of a the "wild", irregardless of initial origins.

Ravens in the Zen Elm at Ravenseyrie...and a fantastic sky!

While many humans seem to find it fascinating to create classifications (and make life altering decisions) based upon the extrapolations of computers analyzing data extracted from molecules, believing this shines a bright light upon what living organisms truly represent, there will always be those who see the limitations to such classifications.  Perhaps as never before, 17th century haiku master, Matsuo Basho's words (quoted at the top of this journal entry) provide us with a simpler, more direct, more holistic and more reliable way of coming to know non-human entities.  "To know the pine, go to the pine"...to know the wild horse, go to the horses living in the wilderness...they tell us more about what it is to be wild than do historical texts or phylogenetic data.


Wintering well, Sorraia stallion, Altamiro of the Ravenseyrie Sorraia Mustang Preserve, Manitoulin Island



Even that old horse
is something to see this
snow-covered morning
   --Basho

Sorraia bachelors running for the shelter of the forest during a snow squall at Ravenseyrie
    


references:

--Ancient DNA reveals traces of Iberian Neolithic and Bronze Age lineages in modern Iberian horses, Lira, et. al, 2009

--Molecular Versus Morphological Approaches to Systematics, Hillis, D. 1987

—The origin and diversification of eukaryotes: problems with molecular phylogenetics and molecular clock estimation, Roger, Hug, 2006

—The Problems of Molecular Phylogenetics with the Example of Squamate Reptiles; Mitochondrial DNA Markers, Grechko, V., 2012

—Molecular phylogeny: pitfalls and progress, Moreira, D., Phillippe, H.,2000

—Magic bullets and golden rules: data sampling in molecular phylogenetics, Cummings, M.P., Meyer, A., 2006

—A Framework for Post-Phylogenetic Systematics, Zander, R.H. 2013

—The Role of Morphological Data in Phylogeny Reconstruction, Wiens, J.,2004

—Rewilding Horses in Europe, Linnartz, L., Meissner, R., 2014

Sorraia colts playing boy games as the snow falls

Ravenseryie Sorraia Mustang Mares on the Twinravens range, Tehkummah, Manitoulin Island


Tuesday, October 28, 2014

October, the Beguiler



Splashy autumn colour, like the month of October itself is almost gone from the island and my mind remains as tangled with a myriad of thoughts as the burred tresses of the Ravenseyrie Sorraias.  Since I seem incapable of focusing on which compelling topic to fuel my writer's energy into, I will forgo (again) an informative article for this month and instead throw up my October photos to the autumn winds and let them scatter before your eyes.  You will see what a marvellous beguiler October can be!  I find myself as enchanted by the subtler hues of late October as I was by the earlier weeks.  The Ravenseyrie preserve does not get quite the spectacular colour that other regions of the island do, but it makes up for it with dramatic skies.  And why don't I share a lovely poem by Robert Frost to compliment the images?  Enjoy!

BY ROBERT FROST
O hushed October morning mild,
Thy leaves have ripened to the fall;
Tomorrow’s wind, if it be wild,
Should waste them all.
The crows above the forest call;
Tomorrow they may form and go.
O hushed October morning mild,
Begin the hours of this day slow.
Make the day seem to us less brief.
Hearts not averse to being beguiled,
Beguile us in the way you know.
Release one leaf at break of day;
At noon release another leaf;
One from our trees, one far away.
Retard the sun with gentle mist;
Enchant the land with amethyst.
Slow, slow!
For the grapes’ sake, if they were all,
Whose leaves already are burnt with frost,
Whose clustered fruit must else be lost—
For the grapes’ sake along the wall.


 


A lovely contrast of deep blue clouds and sun struck trees to the east

Silvestre (Altamiro x Ciente)


Young Sorraias stallions at Ravenseyrie


Legado (Altamiro x Sovina's Zorita)

Ousado (Altamiro x Bella) and Legado trot through a rain saturated grassland

Altamiro (Ultrajado x Pompeiia), a.k.a. "Big Daddy", Ravenseyrie's magnificent foundation sire

Altamiro and his young sons

Silvestre


All the grullo boys!

Yours truly, having a picnic with the Ravenseyrie mares on the Twinravens range in Tehkummah


Jean Ward of Main Street Café in Kagawong makes a great tandoori wrap sandwich


After their treats, some of the mares enjoy a drink in the rainwater stream

Pinoteia (Altamiro x Bella) reprimands Belina's filly

Rija (Altamiro x Belina) shows a little defiance after Pinoteia's rebuke
There are many apple trees on the Twinravens range - these are my favourite

The mares enjoy foraging for drops from the apple trees

Esperanda (Altamiro x Ciente) and Zorita (Sovina x Sulphur's Tia) looking for apples

Such beauties!  Pinoteia and Altavida (full sisters) with Fada just behind


Another morning at Ravenseyrie.  The bachelors come up from the east, full of high spirits.

Young stallions are often sparring with each other for fun

A nice Whitetail stag watches the stallions at play

The Zen Elm with a dramatic sky behind


The last Sandhill Crane

As if saying "So long, see you next spring!", the last crane circled over me before leaving for good




Just after the departure of the crane, a rainbow formed over the Zen Elm

Dramatic light strikes into the northeast sector of Ravenseyrie

I love living here!


Excessive rain this October has waterlogged Kevin's market garden


In between rain showers, Kevin salvages what potatoes he can...many have rotted

Thankfully most of the potatoes survived the rain saturated soil






The hand of an East Bluff potato farmer!
Kevin...zen in the market garden 


An October glimpse from the Top of the World at Ravenseyrie

The heaviest frost so far


A very aged Maple tree ready for winter

The warmth of home sweet humble home!

Magical morning light

Magical clouds!


Thank you for sharing in the glory of the Ravenseyrie Sorraia Mustang Preserve!