The 22,000 acres that are Engler Canyon Ranch make up a diverse ecosystem. Elk, deer, and coyotes roam the hills as hawks, eagles, and owls fly above. A family of beavers works to replenish the area's water tables and flocks of meadowlarks sing in beautiful unison. Amidst all this life, 143 wild mustangs and burros call the land their permanent home.
It's a place where mustangs are free from round-ups, kill pens, and most importantly, human greed. The Serengeti Foundation established ECR to protect North American wildlife, and the mustang sanctuary has turned into a safe haven for the wild west.
For over 22 years, the Serengeti Foundation has been a driving force in the fight to protect wildlife.
What started as a mission to offer sanctuary to former circus elephants has turned into a worldwide undertaking to save species and protect natural habitats.
As the world changed, these wildlife defenders recognized the need to save and protect North American wild mustangs. ECR is their second mustang sanctuary established to provide a safe area for rescued wild horses. The land has been described as "magical" and "unbelievably beautiful."
A former cattle ranch, the diverse ecosystem includes short grass prairie, desert terrain, and dense forests. The Serengeti Foundation, along with their donors and volunteers, have helped transform the land into the perfect paradise for rescued mustangs.
Currently, the herd at ECR has free range to an area of 10,000 acres. Holly, from Serengeti Foundation, told iHeartHorses that the herd is free to live as wild as they want. There are a few horses that are occasionally social with humans, but most of the mustangs prefer life to be truly wild.
ECR monitors the herd to assess forage conditions and has access to a veterinarian in case of extreme emergencies. Most of the horses, however, spend their days completely separate from human interaction. ECR believes the mustangs deserve their space and freedom.
"Just like in the wild, we have clear and obvious bands, deep family connections, and hierarchy within each band and the herd. We see all the typical behavior like courting, protection, chasing, and competition, and we still have disputes over mares and occasionally territory."
Each of the wild mustangs that calls ECR home has a story to tell.
There are 130 animals from the BLM system, 10 hail from the Forest Service, and three made it to the mustang sanctuary from the Ute Reservation. The herd includes mustangs that were surrendered by former owners, but most were purchased outright or adopted directly through BLM.
It's impossible to understand the stress and confusion these mustangs go through before finding their way to ECR.
One horse, formally called Ghost, survived the kill pens three times. He ended up at an auction after being rounded up by helicopter and adopted out by the BLM. Understandably fearful of humans, Ghost's former owners decided they didn't want him. He was minutes away from being sold to a known kill buyer when a mustang advocate and Good Samaritan entered a bidding war to save his life.
Almost a ghost three times over, the wild mustang eventually found a home at ECR. His rescuer changed his name to Dante, meaning "enduring", and his release into the sanctuary was an emotional event for everyone involved. (Read more about Ghost here.)
Romeo and Sinatra are two other examples of hard-earned freedom. After being adopted through the BLM, they both ended up in a kill pen. It's an all-too common story, and it only got worse. Romeo and Sinatra were bought by a fraudulent rescue group that stole hundreds of thousands of dollars from donors. They bought the horses for cheap and denied veterinary care while continuing to pose as a rescue and collect donations.
While most of the horses bought by these scammers are confirmed dead, Romeo and Sinatra survived. They now live at the mustang sanctuary where they will never be bought, sold, or exploited again.
Dante, Romeo, Sinatra, and the entire ECR herd will spend the rest of their lives safe and free.
ECR and Serengeti Foundation work everyday to make the world a better place not only for wild mustangs, but for all wildlife. They believe that the key to saving one species is to protect them all.
"Without intact ecosystems, wild horses and all wildlife have no place to call home. We believe in advocating for wildlife as a whole, rather than focusing on specific species, as the success of one is truly dependent on another."
Anyone who visits ECR can see how essential the mustang sanctuary is to the herd it protects and the entire ecosystem that exists between those fences. It's a spiritual place that inspires and astounds. Bands of wild mustangs gallop freely across the plains and nature flourishes in innate beauty.
Holly describes the land by saying,
"It soothes the soul of all who comes and offers peace and tranquility like no other. The climate can be harsh, but the landscape and inhabitants are second to none. Nothing is quite as beautiful as exploring these ancient lands and stumbling upon a band of wild horses and the singing birds that surround them."
If you're interested in supporting their mission, the Serengeti Foundation encourages everyone to petition government representatives to cosponsor the SAFEAct (H.R. 961) to ban commercial slaughter of American horses and burros. You can also support ECR through monetary donations. One foot of fencing costs $2, and every donation is a worthwhile amount.
As Holly says,
"This country, and so many others, was built on the backs of horses. They deserve better."