In honor of Cloud’s 17th birthday May 29, 2012, filmmaker Ginger Kathrens answers your questions about Cloud and his family, wild horses, and the recent BLM roundups. Here are the answers to some of your questions:
Question: How did you get involved in photographing wild horses, like Cloud? and are there any opportunities for students to help document the horses through a particular organization?
Answer: In late 1993 Marty Stouffer, the host of the popular Wild America series on PBS, asked me to film a show about mustangs. In March of 1994, my location scouting trip took me to the Arrowhead (Pryor is the anglo name) Mountains of southern Montana. At dawn in the red desert country at the bottom of the mountain, I had a chance encounter with the black stallion, Raven, who was eating snow at the base of a red butte. The stallion and his family ran away from me, but in that unforgettable moment, I knew I had found at least one of my future shooting locations. My generic story of wild horses gradually morphed into a very personal account of the life of Raven and his family. Cloud was born the following year while I was still filming for Marty. I formed the Cloud Foundation in 2005 when I realized that wild horses were fast disappearing from their ranges in the West and that Cloud and his herd, though famous by now, were also in danger. We invite interns to apply for unpaid positions with the Foundation. Interns usually have at least one opportunity go on location to search for Cloud and his family and to document what is going on in their lives.
Question: my 5 year old LOVES cloud, we have watched the documentaries SO many times, she wants to know, why you picked cloud to make a movie about? what made him different from all the other colts that were born that year?
Answer: I’m so happy your 5 year-old loves Cloud. Me too! The year before he was born, I met the elegant black stallion, Raven, and his family. Whenever I ventured into their spectacular homeland they appeared. In time they allowed me to trail along with them and I learned what they value most in life – family and freedom. I felt very privileged to record the intimate details of their lives. The parenting of their young was so skillful and was rarely physical but always consistent. Their complex society with the stallion father protecting the family 24 X 7 is unique among all other hooved species in our hemisphere. A year into my journey with Raven’s family they brought their nearly white newborn out of the trees in front of my camera. Four years later it dawned on me that I might be able to create a documentary about the life of one wild horses. I had all this wonderful footage of Cloud and he was such a great photographic subject with his pale coat, expressive, dark eyes, beautiful conformation and athleticism. Add to this his dynamic, flamboyant personality. and it was a formula for success if I could do him justice. Over the years he has become a great ambassador for all the mustangs still living in precious freedom with their families.
Question: Some people say that wild horses are an like an invasive species, non-native and damaging to the ecosystem. How would you respond to the biological arguments against horses on public lands? Are they actually doing damage?
Answer: Wild horses (Equus caballus) are a returned native species, whose roots trace back over 50 million years on the North American continent. Most scientists believe they went extinct here as recently as 7,600 years ago, the blink of an eye in geologic time. The species that died out was remarkably like the horse that returned with the Spanish Conquistadors and explorers in the late 1400s and early 1500s—solid hooved, flop-over mane. Both are considered caballoid type horses—Equus Caballus, the modern horse. Those who call America’s wild horses “invasive” or “feral exotics” often do so for political rather than scientific reasons. Ross MacPhee, PhD, curator of the Division of Vertebrate Zoology at the American Museum of Natural History, states: “The evidence favors the view that this species is “native” to North America, given any rational understanding of the term “native”. By contrast, there are no paleontological or genetic grounds for concluding that it is native to any other continent. . . Reintroduction of horses to North America 500 years ago is, biologically, a non-event: horses were merely returned to part of their former native range, where they have since prospered because ecologically they never left
The few thousand remaining wild horse herds have long been scapegoats for the damage caused by millions of head of privately owned livestock permitted to graze on legally designated wild horse ranges at a huge expense to the American taxpayer.
Question: what exactly is the status of the recent wild horse roundups? Have they stopped?! Is Cloud still protected from being rounded up again like he was many years ago because of his palomino coloring?
Answer: Unfortunately, the dangerous and costly helicopter round ups continue with thousands of horses each year losing what they value most, their freedom and their families. Many more are rounded up than can be adopted out and so the “excess” are warehoused in short and long term holding facilities at taxpayer expense. Currently, these facilities are nearly full and we fear that the Bureau of Land Management (BLM), the major government agency charged with protecting wild horses on public lands, may exercise their legal authority and begin killing these healthy animals.
The former Director of the BLM recently retired, but before doing so, he told us that the Agency had no plans to remove Cloud. That promise did not extend to his offspring, many of whom were removed in 2009 shortly after we completed “Cloud: Challenge of the Stallions”. This month, bait trapping of young Pryor mustangs is scheduled to begin, and we encourage people to write to the Billings BLM Field Office, managers of the Pryor Wild Horse Herd. Ask them not to remove Echo, Cloud’s lookalike grandson or other young mustangs with unusual genetics and colors that are listed on Tier 3-those whose removal would most jeopardize the future survival of the herd.
Question: Do you think Cloud will be left alone to live out his life in freedom???
Answer: Cloud is probably safe from removal and will live out his life in freedom. We have real concerns that his offspring may not receive the same consideration. The Cloud Foundation is actively involved in forcing the Custer National Forest managers to recognize the right of the herd to use this area which is adjacent to the designated wild horse range so that a larger, truly genetically viable herd might live on. A 2 mile long wooden fence, built in late 2010, now prevents the herd from accessing this area, vital late summer and fall grazing which the horses have used for centuries, long before there was a U.S. Forest Service.
We continue to lose wild horse herds in the West, but since 2009 when BLM conducted the largest roundup in the history of Cloud’s Pryor Mustang Herd, many more people are aware of the presence of wild horses and the threats to them from the very agencies (BLM and Forest Service) charged with protecting them. We encourage more people to speaking out on behalf of our native equid species. Recent lawsuits brought by the Cloud Foundation and others have been successful in blocking radical efforts by BLM to permanently sterilize horses and turn them back out where healthy wild horses families once roamed. We need every American to speak out and help in any way they can. Go towww.thecloudfoundation.org and click on Resources to read about the issue. Then go to Take Action and communicate your views with your Congressional Representatives and U.S. Senators.
Question: what is the SINGLE MOST IMPORTANT action both the average American citizen and the committed wild horse advocate can take to protect the mustangs and create LASTING policy change to benefit the wild horses?
Answer: The average American needs to learn more about the issues and policies that threaten the survival of America’s wild horses and burros. Go to www.thecloudfoundation.org. Click on Resources and read about the issues before you contact your elected Congressional Reps or U.S. Senators. By understanding the facts, you will be better prepared to detect the fiction. BLM (and also the Forest Service) never wanted the job of managing wild horses and burros on our public lands. BLM was in the business of killing these animals, or assisting in the killing of them prior to the creation of the Wild Horse and Burro Act of 1971. Suddenly their job was to protect them. The Agency has consistently portrayed the few remaining wild horse and burro herds on their legally designated ranges as over populated, damaging the range, starving, in need of “rescue”, non-native, feral exotics, etc. These false statements are frequently all that your elected officials have been exposed to and they may parrot them back to you. If they do, you will be prepared to counter that millions of head of privately owned livestock graze these same lands at taxpayer expense. Additionally water guzzling mining projects and oil and gas extraction are degrading public lands. Once you are armed with the facts, go to Take Action to learn how to contact your elected officials. Express your opinions politely. You want YOUR wild horses and burros preserved and protected on YOUR public lands as intended by the unanimously passed Wild Horse and Burro Act of 1971.
Watch a video update from Ginger Kathrens on Cloud and his family. Watch full episodes of all the PBS Nature Cloud films: Cloud: Wild Stallion of the Rockies, Cloud’s Legacy: The Wild Stallion Returns, Cloud: Challenge of the Stallions.
Photos by Ginger Kathrens