Wild horses are returning to the heart of Europe

2012 - 11 - 30
Wild horses are returning to the heart of Europe

Wild horses are getting ready for a comeback to Central Europe. Their return is key part of a programme which aims to restore natural pastures, flowering meadows and other elements of biodiversity. The project is being realized by European Wildlife.

“In the past centuries wild horses were exterminated. But their genes have survived in some primitive breeds of horses,” says Dalibor Dostal, director of European Wildlife conservation organization. According to experts, by back-breeding animals in which genes of wild horses have been preserved, we can get horses which will correspond to the original wild horses, resemble their appearance, size, colour, behaviour and even undemanding nature when it comes to dietary diversity.

The project will work with two primitive horse breeds which are close to the original wild horses. One of them is the Hucul, a breed that originally comes from the Carpathian Mountains and seems very close to the original wild horses that used to inhabit the region. The other one is the Exmoor pony which comes from the British Isles and which seems to not to have changed much since the Ice Age.

In this project European Wildlife organization cooperates with two partners – Czech breeders of Hucul horses and the Taurus Foundation from the Netherlands which has long-term experience with breeding of Exmoor ponies. Furthermore, experts from this organization search very intensively for horse breeds which would be the most suitable for back-breeding of European Wild Horses.

In the first years the animals will be kept in vast enclosures. For further breeding only those individuals will be selected which most resemble the characteristic of wild horses as far as we know now. The long-term aim is to create horses which will resemble herds that used to inhabit Europe and that are fit for purpose

The attempt to back-breed wild horses had already taken place in 1930s in Poland. The outcome was the Konik. However, new scientific findings, including DNA analyses, shows that, in many ways, Konik does not resemble original wild horses.  „According to the latest researches regarding genetics, history and appearance,  it seems clear that the Konik has nothing to do with prehistoric horses and is clearly of mixed origin,“ says Henri Kerkdijk from the Taurus Foundation.

„From genetic researches, we have learned that the Exmoor pony is the closest relative we have of the Northwest European prehistoric horse. This is confirmed by other researches like bone measurements, historical documents, blood type researches, coat colour genetic researches and dental researches,“ adds Henri Kerkdijk.

Another important thing to add is that contrary to the Aurochs, wild horses in Europe seem to have been more diverse in terms of appearance. Horses in general are more adaptable to changing circumstances and the diverse climates, landscapes and vegetation in Europe have resulted in different Horse ecotypes suited to local circumstances.

The Hucul horses bred in the Czech Republic have many genes of the original wild horse, but in an attempt to save local Hucul horses, they have been cross-bred with several other horse breeds in the past decades, for example Hafling or Fjord. That is why for back-breeding only those individuals that  most resemble the original wild horses of the region will be selected.

There is yet another aim of European Wildlife´s  project. In cooperation with experts they will observe how both breeds – Huculs and Exmoor ponies – can adapt in Central Europe with its specific climate, terrain and vegetation. Central Europe is situated between the areas of occurrence of both horses breeds. For instance, the distance between the heartland of the Hucul, in Romania, and Prague is about 1070 km and the distance between the heartland of the Exmoor pony and Prague is about 1250 km. That is why adaptability of both types of horses is going to play a key role in deciding which breed will be chosen to work with in the framework of the project dedicated to the return of wild horses to Central Europe.

European Wildlife

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