The Court of Verderers in Hampshire has confirmed an outbreak of strangles in the New Forest.
Strangles has been detected among ponies grazing in at least five parts of the Forest, including the tourist hot spots of Lyndhurst and Minstead, as well as Bolderwood, Millyford and Bolton’s Bench.
A spokesperson for the Court of Verderers said the disease was currently confined to a “relatively small” number of ponies. No statistics are available, but the number of cases is understood to have reached double figures.
The spokesperson added: “The veterinary advice is that unless the animals are in a poor condition generally, it is best to leave them alone. If we round them up, it would put the horses under stress and that can make them a lot worse.
“The situation is being closely monitored, by the Agiters – they are keeping an eye out for the ponies and donkeys. Commoners are also checking on their own animals.
“Local riders are making sure that their horses don’t drink from streams and ponds in the affected areas. They are also keeping their horses away from the Forest animals, which is a good idea anyway.”
The local hunt has moved its meet to another part of the Forest, so as not to cause any disturbance.
Strangles is caused by the bacteria streptococcus equi, which enlarges the lymph nodes. The disease is treated with antibiotics, however, if the bacterium spreads to other parts of the body, such as the lungs, liver and brain, it is usually fatal.