Do arctic horses migrate?

We put a listener question to our animal expert...
01 December 2020

Interview with 

Eleanor Drinkwater, Uni of York


photo of an Icelandic horse


Listener Dave wants to know - I was reading an article about horses in the arctic protecting the permafrost, and was wondering if arctic horses migrate like caribou and some other arctic animals do? As it’s getting chilly here in the UK and we’re well and truly heading into winter, Katie Haylor put this fitting question to Eleanor Drinkwater...

Eleanor - The study that he talked about - so cool! 

Essentially using horses to protect permafrost because permafrost is kept at around minus 10 degrees. And then the snow is kind of insulating it to stop it from getting too cold, weirdly, as the air temperatures around minus 40 degrees.

So, if you put a bunch of horses in the area, they churn it up, and they reduce the temperature of permafrost, kind of protecting it, which is really interesting. As for whether or not they migrate, this is an excellent question, because actually pretty much all of the horses that we think about when we think about wild horses in Australia, in America, they're actually feral horses that have been released. So they're domesticated horses that have been released into the wild and kind of adapted to it. And actually we don't really know whether or not they would migrate.

So there has been a little bit of work done on some of the feral populations and they do move around a bit, depending on conditions around them. However what is unclear is whether or not in a wide open space they would migrate because a lot of populations now are kind of quite - penned in is perhaps the wrong word - but they have a limited distance which they can travel. So it might be the case that actually we're seeing no migration because they are not able to migrate, or it could be that they don't migrate.

So it's a really good question to which there's not a really clear answer.


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