Concern over ‘rewilding’ project ponies’ welfare *H&H Plus*

  • H&H finds out why locals are concerned for the welfare of Exmoor ponies in a “rewilding” project in Denmark. We find out why, and what action is being taken

    CONCERNS raised over the welfare of Exmoor ponies in Denmark are ​said to be a “prime example of what can go wrong” with using equines in “rewilding” projects.

    The condition of the ponies living in the Mols Lab project on a Danish peninsula has ​allegedly been raised by locals, and even reported to the police by a vet.

    Brit Heather Storgaard, who is currently living in the area, told H&H she first saw a large number of thin animals in the Mols Bjerge National Park last winter.

    She ​says she soon found out more, and is now part of a group of some 5,500 people campaigning for the project to be stopped.

    “It’s possible the area could be suitable but they’ve fenced the animals in so they can’t roam,” she said. They’re in quite small areas, which in winter were just fields of mud. They don’t have the opportunity to find more food.”

    Heather said some of the ponies have been fitted with GPS tracking collars. One mare’s collar slipped over her ears, keeping them pinned tightly to her head for days, including while she gave birth, and causing open wounds.

    “Some of the pictures are horrific,” she said. “My mum used to work with Exmoors, and she told me she couldn’t look at the pictures any more.

    “As a Brit here on Mols, I am disgusted that our native breeds are being treated in this way. I know first-hand how brilliant Exmoor ponies that live in the wilds of Exmoor have life, and it saddens me greatly to see them here on Mols in this state.”

    World Horse Welfare CEO Roly Owers told H&H the charity has concerns about the welfare of ponies used in some rewilding projects.

    “There have been horrific stories in Europe and the issues with the Exmoor ponies at the Mols Laboratoriet project in Denmark are a prime example of what can go wrong,” he ​claimed.

    “Ponies placed into rewilding projects are not evolved to cope with the conditions on site throughout the year as they are domesticated breeds and often far removed from the original wild grazers. Nor are they able to migrate out of the enclosed area in search of food when conditions become difficult as they would in a truly wild context.

    “More needs to be done to agree basic animal welfare guidance for these projects to ensure projects assume the duty of care these ponies deserve. We are in contact with the leading animal welfare charity in Denmark about how we can help and will be raising the need for welfare standards in rewilding and conservation grazing at the all-party parliamentary group of the horse in July.”

    ​In reply to H&H​’s requests for comment, Mols Lab ​stated that the allegations come from a group of “social media warriors” who are “non-vet-educated”, and that it is false to suggest that Mols Lab, which is “part of” the Aarhus Natural History Museum, does not care about animal welfare.

    A spokesman told H&H the report to the police has not led to any police action, and that the area allocated to the ponies is “more than sufficient for all animals to roam freely”. They said all animals are body condition scored several times a week, with any showing signs of weight loss removed from the area. They said the area is less muddy than most in Denmark, and that the mare whose collar slipped received no intervention until after she gave birth following police and veterinary advice, because her wounds were not apparent until her collar was removed two to three days later. The delay in removing the mare’s collar was due, H&H was informed, to various factors including not knowing the exact time of birth and the need to locate appropriately skilled vets to sedate her.

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