The Wild Horses of the Danube Delta
The Danube delta is the only delta in the world entirely declared as a Biosphere Reserve and the second largest wetland in Europe. The Letea forest is situated in the northeastern part of the Romanian Danube delta. This particular piece of land has an area of 2,825 hectares, and is well known and protected for its very rare species of plants. The Danube delta, which was declared a World Heritage Site, received international recognition as a Biosphere Reserve in 1990 through UNESCO’s Man and Biosphere Programme. Established in 1938, it is the oldest natural reserve in Romania.
Wild horses in Letea Forest?
Historical documents report that 300 to 400 years ago the ancestors of the local horses were brought by the Tatars to the north of the Danube delta. Horses which were left behind were free to roam the area. Furthermore, after the breakdown of the former agricultural cooperatives in 1989, many horses were set free in that region. Many others were let out by their owners to graze illegally in the nearby forest. This combination of circumstances led to a remarkable growth in this population of mixed Hucul-breeds. As the population grew more and more the horses had to look for new sources of food and entered the strictly protected forest, nibbling on tree bark and feeding on rare species of plants. Estimates say there were as many as 1,500 horses living in this very special area by 2010. The authorities and environmentalists then decided to act, and came to an easy but insensitive “solution” - to kill the horses.
Protect the horses!
FOUR PAWS started to act immediately. After several intensive talks and meetings with the responsible authorities the killing was stopped. In cooperation with the local and public authorities FOUR PAWS succeeded in reaching an agreement and creating an action plan to rescue the wild horses:
• As only a certain number of horses can live on the existing land and resources it is also necessary to control the birth rate* of the whole population to avoid malnutrition or starvation.
• The FOUR PAWS veterinarians’ team is providing help for injured or weak animals.
• Additionally hay is fed whenever necessary.
• The Danube Delta National Institute for Research and Development (DDNIRD) conducts a study to gauge the birth-controls’ positive impact on the flora and fauna.
FOUR PAWS goals
By involving the authorities and committing them to the project, FOUR PAWS wants to demonstrate that these feral horses even contribute to the biodiversity of the romantic Danube delta, as they have already done for past centuries. FOUR PAWS will continue to take care of the wellbeing and protection of the lives of these fascinating and sensitive equines.
* A contraceptive vaccine, which blocks fertilisation for two to three years, is given to as many mares as possible. This harmless, fast and non-invasive method is highly recommended by specialists. Neutering the same amount of stallions on the other hand would be much more costly and time consuming, and would not lead to a sustainable reduction of the population. If only one stallion is not caught and neutered, it can result in many new births as a stallion can cover up to 50 mares in a mating season.