Saturday, March 15, 2008

Spanish Cerbats ~ Just A Theory?

In the last post, “Last of the Spanish Mustangs”, filmmaker Len Johnson focuses his documentary on the Spanish mustangs in the Cerbat Mountains of Arizona.

As is often the case, BLM records are relatively sketchy as to exactly what is and has gone on in the Cerbat herds protected habitat.

The 1993 Kingman Resource Management Plan discusses the Cerbats as a Herd Management Area. This means that through the planning process, BLM had determined the area was feasible for long-term management of wild horse herds. Yet today, BLMs website indicates that somewhere along the way, a change happened and the Cerbat area is now listed as a Herd Area instead.

The difference between a Herd Area and a Herd Management Area is still very fuzzy. The Herd Area was suppose to be declared by federal law as a protected habitat starting in 1971. Later, changes were made that allowed BLM to draw up new plans to determine if the wild horse and burro territories were actually viable for "management". If so, wild horses and burros were allowed to stay, if not, BLM removed them.

While Herd Areas were suppose to be the original areas protected by federal law, BLM has eliminated over 19 million acres of wild horse and burro habitat through the Herd Management Area planning process, often drawn with boundaries much smaller than the original Herd Areas.

This process can go back and forth. The Herd Area is suppose to be set in stone as it was identified as having wild horse or burro herds in 1971 (though prior records show that is not always the case). Then BLM sets about deciding if they can actually manage herds through a very complex process, sometimes several documents in the making, and if so, will declare the area fit for wild horse and burro use and give it Herd Management Area status.

However, a HMA designation is still subject to change and BLM can revoke the protected status through more planning processes and revert it back to Herd Area status. Usually, this is a foreboding of zeroing the area out completely for any further equid use such as what happened with the historic Clark Mountain wild burro herds in Southern California.

Lake Havasu in Arizona has just recently completed a new land use plan that stated wild burros would not be allowed outside the Herd Management boundaries even if they were still in the original Herd Area as well as no wild burros would be allowed in any Herd Areas at all and will now be removed.

So this brings us back to the Cerbat Herd Management Area, now classified as a Herd Area again. Is this a sign of things to come for the Cerbat wild horse herds?

In BLMs 1993 Resource Management Plan, BLM stated that 8 wild horses had been removed from Marble Canyon in 1989 and genetic testing concluded that “these wild horses were determined to be significant because of their genetic similarity to the early Spanish Barb horse.”

Today, we see BLM back-peddling on their historical significance as the description for the Cerbat Herd Area on BLMs website states:
“There are several popular beliefs on the origins of this herd. One theory is that the Cerbats are descendants of Spanish mustangs introduced as early as the 1500s. A second theory is that these horses escaped from early 1700s' explorers, and another belief is that they were abandoned by livestock ranchers in the early 1800s. Though the horses do typically show some sign of Spanish descent, their exact origin remains a matter of speculation. Regardless of the origination, this herd existed in the area prior to 1971, and is now protected by law.”

Does anyone else find it interesting that BLM stated genetic tests showed strong links of significance to the Spanish Barb horse, establishing this scientific fact through their own genetic tests yet today, they merely offer it as one of many “popular beliefs” and casually toss it out as only a “theory of speculation”?

The Cerbat Herd Area spans approximately 83,000 acres and BLM reports that an appropriate management level (AML) has yet to be set for the Cerbat herds - the 1993 Kingman Plan stated that forage was allocated for only 14 wild horses.

BLM currently reports:
“About 70 wild horses roam the Cerbat Herd Area today. The population is relatively stable and recruitment is fairly low. It is believed that the high density of mountain lions within the Herd Area account for the low recruitment and stable population and because of this stable population, removals have not been necessary and the habitat has maintained a good range condition.”

“Body size of a Cerbat horse is typically small, with an average body weight ranging between 750-800 pounds and a height of 14 to 16 hands. The horses are predominately bays, with a high occurrence of roans including reds, strawberry and blue roans. Other colors include greys, blacks, sorrels and duns.”

This is what BLM said back in 1993-
“Through population monitoring, three separate wild horse use areas within the Cerbat Herd Management Area have been identified. These include the east slope of Cherum Peak, the west slope of Cherum Peak and Marble Canyon.”

Wonder if those 8 horses taken from Marble Canyon in 1989 were returned or if BLM has since zeroed this herd out, despite their documented historic presence?

American Herds has requested more information from BLM on this scientifically proven historic herd and will keep you posted….

Marble Canyon ~ Arizona

For Information on the Cerbat Preservation Society contact:

All statistics and photo of Cerbat horses taken from BLMs Arizona website available at:
and the 1993 Kingman Resource Management Plan


Journey's End Ranch said...

I live at the foot of the Cerbat Mountains and often see Cerbat horses. I run a little animal sanctuary, including 3 mustangs and 2 wild burros. My 3 BLM animals all have permanent damage from BLM abuse/mishandling. My website will be up soon Very glad to find this site- it is awesome!

Anonymous said...

Thanks for blogging on this. The BLM seems to be increasing its efforts to zero out areas and at the same time they are near the max holding cap or 53K wild horses and burros. I am not please with BLM!
cheers, Susan

Unknown said...

Right on the money. I interviewed Gus Cothran, who is a Texas A & M geneticist who has blood sampled the Cerbats twice. He says they are one of the most pure wild horse herds in the world and "might be the most pure." Gus has sampled and tested blood and DNA from over 200 wild horse herds around the globe.
I'm careful not to criticize the BLM too much on this herd, though. Through the years, the agency's decision making on the Cerbats has been sound, in my view. While the agency is clearly and deliberately downplaying the Spanish blood (Andalusian, most likely, while Father Kino's to the south were Spanish Barb from the north of Africa), it is responding to incidents around the Cerbat Mountains in a way that seems equitable to all involved, in my view.
-Len Johnson

Unknown said...

My question - why not make it possible for universities that study zoology, veterinary medicine, genetics, etc to do or sponsor genetic testing from BLM herds when animals are captured?

We could start a genetic record and BLM doesn't need to foot the bill.

Unknown said...

To the comment from over 4 years ago - "My 3 BLM animals all have permanent damage from BLM abuse/mishandling."

I attended a BLM sale 1/30/2015 in Brandon Florida. Unfortunately I was in such shock, and trying to figure out how I could or someone within reach - help a filly that very nearly died while having triad to jump a gate that was not visually blocked by tying a tarp over it. The gate was over 6ft, but apparently feeling trapped in the chute she was in with the mounted BLM member behind her, the filly made numerous attempts from basically the very foot of the gate (no running jump here - but a frantic lurch and climbing jump) to make it up and over the gate. The gate had a 6 inch metal piece coming straight up from it's last rail - I thought several times she would rip herself between interior chest
and leg - or pierce her chest.

The filly caught her foreleg in the top break in the gate and was hanging and kicking - still trying to lurch over the top of the gate when the gate swung open and she was pulled around, hanging, flailing, twisting. She suddenly with a wrench and a drag flipped and fell to the ground

I had been thinking surely someone from BLM would run at her in the direction she could was open and was trying to get to - in order to stop her from trying.

I thought for sure once on the ground and frightened to the holding chute/box further behind her by a cowfella with a plastic bag on a stick - which looked so much more to me like a snake having been ripped into long waving rattling pieces - I thought for sure that the vet or someone would check her out as they got a halter over her head. But no, now in the boxed chute the door was pulled aside and she jumped into the next open space in front of her - jumping into the waiting horse trailer.

I regret I had handed my camera to a friend and got none of it captured on film. I'm sorry I am not being perhaps the best writer as I put these words here. But I left very disturbed.

This was Florida, that horse came from a far Western state, the BLM were doing this with the horses up for adoption for a long time now in general - and should have a good idea of a wild horse's reactions. Yet, my mere self could see so many simple "free" ways that entire scenario could have been avoided.

I go to horse shows and events all the time, and I see how people who perceive their horses as important to them - for whatever reason - financial, fame, whatever, simply as owners, - respond to their horses differently then how these overall "friendly" BLM folks did.

It wasn't that the BLM folks (there were men and women) were just outright cruel. But more like indifferent - like someone might be over a flock of commercial chickens when they aren't terribly empathetic to something simply because it's alive and can feel pain and fear.

I hope my point comes across. I don't think any of the BLM people there that day would have cared that the horse died. Just embarrassed that "we" saw it.

Unknown said...

Later that day - a trailer was full full full with 11 horses. One more pregnant burro was to be loaded. (She had a full milk bag.) Several people had wanted to buy her - she was very sweet - eating out of hand and excepting scratches willingly. When she was in the last chute box, I looked at the trailer door being opened again - and thought, "How is she going to fit in there?" Two front legs and a head in - she wouldn't go further - and it was hard to see where - with the horses filling the space completely - where she could move in. They pushed at her with the trailer gate - squishing her a bit. A cowfella said "Well folks this isn't going to be pretty" and strode away for a cattle prod. A teenage boy of about 17 who had been trying to talk the new buyer to sell her to him to no avail, said "Oh no, they just don't understand her. She knows enough about life to know we aren't wolves or coyotes; she doesn't have to be afraid of us - so she needs some room and a minute to do it on her terms." Then he and I watched her zapped a few times - and I thought - and now she's learned she does need to be afraid of us.

The young man walked away head down.

Florida is a big state - many people don't realize that. I spoke with the new owner - they had a nine hour ride home. Yes, the BLM have rules about that I know, and this person seemed to be doing this out of a sense of "rescuing" them and must have passed some criteria to have bought so many... But it was still, not going to be an easy time for that dozen animals.

Unknown said...

Interesting FACTS about the genetics of different American Mustang herds can be found here:

"America's Last Wild Horses: The Classic Study of the Mustangs--Their Pivotal ..." By Hope Ryden

Andrea McGregor said...

The horses removed in 1989 went to private Spanish Mustang breeders within the SMR. I actually have a co-ownership in an SMR reg 100% Cerbat descended stallion that goes back to Mary Anne Thompson’s herd (which includes horses gathered from the Cerbat area before the BLM even existed and also some of the ones gathered in 1989.

Unfortunately according to Mary Anne Thompson gray colored horses were not present in the original herd - and the gray horses showed up later (I think the 90’s?) so outside blood must have made its way in then.