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Campaign launched to tackle Dartmoor pony cull

December 4, 2010

A responsible breeding campaign has been launched in Britain around concerns over the number of Dartmoor ponies being killed and their meat fed to zoo animals.


Hill ponies start their journey abroad. The coloured ponies are considered valuable in Italy, where their markings are popular for skins for leather goods.


Ponies are crammed onto trucks to make the long, distressing trip to the continent from Britain.

Media reports confirm that at least 700 Dartmoor ponies have been shot in 2010 alone.

Charles Brenin, who set up a Facebook page for the campaign, said the carcasses are taken to a zoo to feed to carnivores.

The Facebook page was aimed at drawing public attention to the situation of the hill ponies bred on Dartmoor.

"Ponies have been traditionally kept on dartmoor for hundreds of years," he explains.

"This is very beneficial to the environment, and an integral and important part of the locality of Dartmoor, and we support it wholeheartedly.

"They are kept on the moor for conservation grazing. The farmers are paid a subsidy per head for the ponies."

Traditionally, the pony herds, which are owned by commoners, are gathered in the autumn into a nearby pound from which each owner removes his or her own ponies to the farmstead. Foals born the previous spring are separated from the mares for weaning and later sold at the local markets in Tavistock and Chagford.

Some of the foals are kept as replacement stock, branded and turned back on the commons to breed in future years, others are used as children's riding ponies or for driving small traps.

However, the recession has meant a serious falloff in the market and Brenin noted that, even before the downturn began, prices had reduced radically.

"It is very important to emphasise that the way of life surrounding the Dartmoor pony and market must be valued and supported," he said of his Facebook campaign.

"We are in no way trying to get ponies off the moor, the markets closed or a pure bred eugenics program initiated.

"However it cannot be left unsaid that most of the stallions chosen to run on the moor are not Dartmoor ponies or Dartmoor hill pony types ...

"There are many spotted and coloured stallions which are chosen for their valuable coloured or spotted coat. Making them a more valuable commodity either due to the novelty value and appeal at the market or sadly for their skins after slaughter."

Brenin says setting aside the breed question, the main issue is the fate of the ponies.

"There is no market for these ponies and yet many farmers are leaving their stallions on the moor all year round. This is leading to unstructured breeding, with the obvious consequence of late foals born all year round, who are too young to go to market and too poor in condition if born late in the year to be sold.

"The markets for these ponies will not allow them to be sold before five months of age so they are shot as foals, un-weaned, as that saves the time and effort to wean them, handle them, microchip them, send off for passports and take them to market when they are old enough."

Brenin notes that most farmers are against this current trend of keeping stallions on the moor all the time.

"Their mares are covered by the stallions every year against their wishes, leading to the breeding of foals they did not want and they are left with the job of trying to find homes for these foals or face the unthinkable and have them shot."


'The most unspeakable sight of all was tiny little coloured ponies, about the size of large dogs. Over 30 of these little souls were crushed together in a couple of pens, and were dying on their feet. All had given up.'
-Charles Brenin

Brenin says there is evidence that some are sold at markets and are being exported abroad - illegally - on long trips crammed into trucks, with many injured on the journey to Italy [for slaughter].

"The most unspeakable sight of all was tiny little coloured ponies, about the size of large dogs.

"Over 30 of these little souls were crushed together in a couple of pens, and were dying on their feet. Most had eye infections, a couple were very lame, and all had given up.

"It looked as if they hadn't been off the lorry for a long time. Once again, no respect was given to these animals as they were handled, to the dealer they were simply a few euros on legs.

"From type and size and markings, we believe that these were Dartmoor hill ponies.

"The last UK sale from Dartmoor was on October 14, with ponies selling for around £2.50 each. The dealer at Maurs [in France] was asking for as much as €250 each for them. That would very much make it a worthwhile trip for him ...

"We suspect their coat markings would hold value, with Italy being famous for skin and leather production."

Brenin said information gleaned recently from Equine Rescue France indicates that 1400 horses, ponies and foals - mostly foals - went through the southwest's markets in autumn.

"Where are they now? In today's economic climate, did all those go to private homes to be turned into domestic ponies? I think not.

"Those that do not sell at the market are often taken home and shot.

"So how many are actually making it to good homes? It would seem frighteningly small numbers!"


Some Dartmoor ponies are shot before they are weaned, while others end up as food for zoo animals or shipped abroad for their meat and skins.
Brenin labelled the situation a vicious cycle of over breeding and culling that is completely unnecessary.

He urged those concerned about the situation to write to the Dartmoor commoners council [see below].

One solution proposed by Brenin include keeping stallions on the moor only in April and May.

"So far, measures in dealing with the glut of ponies have been to increase demand for them. However, some will still be culled if so many continue to be bred and the problem becomes more pressing with the recession.

Local abattoirs do not want small ponies, preferring larger horses, he noted.

"There is no market for pony meat in this country. Surely the logical conclusion to a 'crop' that has no market in this kind of situation would be to stop creating the 'crop'.

"Do we really want to be breeding our British ponies for the European meat market? Are we breeding our beautiful British ponies to be shot for meat?"

The best outcome would be to stop indiscriminate breeding altogether, he argued.

"Why breed something for which there is no need nor market? The numbers could easily be maintained for conservation grazing without the mares breeding every year.

"When numbers need to be increased they could be served by good Dartmoor stallions when there is a NEED to maintain numbers. Not this constant breeding and culling.

"It has to stop."

 

 

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