Up to 500 Dartmoor ponies could be slaughtered if they are not sold soon

There are fears that the annual cull of Dartmoor ponies before winter could be far greater than in previous years due to FMD crisis.

Dartmoor ponies, which are believed unlikely to make it through the winter, particularly unwanted foals and older mares, are routinely culled every year.

However, restrictions imposed because of the disease havemeant there will be fewer pony sales than usual.

John Weir, head of communication at the Dartmoor National Park Authority, said: “The demand for ponies in the next few months is likely to be less than normal, although there are a still some sales between now and 1 January which is the critical date.

“The worst case scenario is that up to 500 ponies will have to be slaughtered this year.”

The RSPCA, which will supervise the cull, has said it believes it is preferable to kill the ponies than leave them on the moor to starve during the winter.

“We are adamant that this year’s expected surplus of unsold ponies cannot be left on Dartmoor over winter, as they will undoubtedly suffer and possibly die in the harsh conditions,” said David McDowell, RSPCA’s equine vet.

“For animals for which there is no market, pony keepers have reached a decision to selectively cull them. Pony keepers need to get some financial return for rearing the ponies and cannot be expected to keep them as pets.

“This cull will be overseen by the Dartmoor Commoners Council. The society has requested than an RSPCA inspector and a vet are in attendance at the organised cull and that the animals are killed humanely by a licensed slaughterer.”

Mr Weir said the local authority was hoping to offer some financial support to pony keepers who were able to keep their livestock on their own farms and off the moor.

Although the current solutions are short-term, Mr Weir believes that a report due out before the end of the year was expected to make recommendations for the medium and long term on how best to manage the problem of unwanted ponies on the moor.

  • The BHS has received dozens of calls from people concerned about the ponies on Dartmoor. The society has said it is “concerned that where animals have to be put down, this does not cause any unnecessary distress” but accepts that this is prefered to unknowledgeable individuals “saving” ponies.

    “The BHS is often called in to rescue the rescued where a pony has been bought out of pity by someone without the knowledge, experience or resources to care for a wild young animal,” explains Kay Driver, BHS Chief Executive.

    For more information visit www.dartmoor-npa.gov.uk