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Wild horses taking refuge at former US base

DDP/The Local · 2 Sep 2009, 07:43

Published: 02 Sep 2009 07:43 GMT+02:00

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Preparations for the arrival of the Przewalski wild horses are underway at Campo Pond this week, as workers remove poisonous plants and erect around four kilometres of wooden fences

The first five horses should arrive in Hanau-Großauheim by mid- September, and they will see to the protection of vegetation on the approximately 340 hectares of land, which has been left untended since the departure of the Americans from the military training ground.

“Despite the military use of the land, many especially endangered plant and animal varieties survived,” said Martin Schroth, who is responsible for the horses as part of the Nature conservation team of the city.

As a result the area hosts a unique habitat, with a range of habitats that include steppe grassland and an almost undisturbed forest area. Wild pigs, deer, hare and field mice live there alongside several kinds of amphibians.

The area won’t stay self-sufficient though, according to Harald Fuhrländer, who is responsible for the cultivation of nature conservation areas for the Federal Forest Administration. In time, he told DDP, the woods will spread, causing the habitat of the many species to disappear.

The Przewalksi horses are being brought in to help trample the grass, nibble the roots of trees and free the area from shrub-coverage. They will be completely self-sufficient.

“They just need water and space,” Fuhrländer said.

The wild horse project doesn’t just serve the needs of nature conservation, though. According to Schroth, the arrangement will benefit the horses too, by providing refuge for a species that is extinct in the wild.

The relatively small, stocky animals, with their short legs, thick neck and big head are more reminiscent of ponies than domesticated horses. They are heavier and more timid in behaviour, but can be more aggressive than their domesticated relatives, said Hennig Wiesner, Munich zoo director.

Their complicated name stems from Russian colonel Nikolai Przewalski, who brought back a skull and skin from this type of horse after a voyage to central Asia in the late nineteenth century. He used these to make the horses known to the public.

This discovery brought an end to the freedom of the Przewalski horses. Soon these Mongolian animals were brutally hunted and forced out to increasingly sparse territory by the approach of domestic horses.

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“The last of these horses was sighted in the wild in the late 1960s,” reported Wiesner.

When the 64-year-old started his job as a vet at Munich zoo in 1972, he initiated an international search programme, which continues today. The current population of the horses in zoos and animal parks sits at around 1,500, a few of which have recently been released into the wild in Mongolia.

“If there are a lot of offspring produced in Hanau, a few of these will be prepared for release into the wild in Kazakhstan,” Wiesner added.

Once the construction of a reception building and information centre is completed, tours will be given of the area to introduce the horses, a tactic Schroth hopes will bring the horses some recognition.

DDP/The Local (news@thelocal.de)

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