Feral horses (Equus caballus) are globally distributed in free-roaming populations on all continents except Antarctica and occupy a wide range of habitats including forest, grassland, desert, and montane environments. The largest populations occur in Australia and North America and have been the subject of scientific study for decades, yet guidelines and ethograms for feral horse behavioral research are largely absent in the scientific literature. The U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) Fort Collins Science Center conducted research on the influences of the immunocontraceptive porcine zona pellucida (PZP) on feral horse behavior from 2003-2006 in three discrete populations in the American west. These populations were the Little Book Cliffs Wild Horse Range in Colorado, McCullough Peaks Herd Management Area in Wyoming, and Pryor Mountain Wild Horse Range in Montana; the research effort included over 1,800 hours of behavioral observations of 317 adult free-roaming feral horses. An ethogram was developed during the course of this study to facilitate accurate scientific data collection on feral horse behavior, which is often challenging to quantify. By developing this set of discrete behavioral definitions and a set of strict research protocols, scientists were better able to address both applied questions, such as behavioral changes related to fertility control, and theoretical questions, such as understanding networks and dominance hierarchies within social groups of equids.
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USGS Numbered Series
Quantifying Equid Behavior - A Research Ethogram for Free-Roaming Feral Horses