Danube Delta horse
|Country of origin||Romania|
The Danube Delta horses are a population of feral horses in Romania. They live in and around Letea Forest in the Danube Delta, between the Sulina and Chilia branches of the Danube. About 4000 feral horses live in the Danube Delta, 2000 of them in the Letea nature reserve*, where on one hand, they are among the last remaining "wild" (feral) horses living at large on the European continent, but are also deemed to be a threat to the flora of the forest, including to some plants on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species.
Although there have been feral horses in the region for hundreds of years, their numbers greatly increased after the collective farms were closed down in 1990 and the horses belonging to them were freed. The Letea population is not regulated and there are concerns that overgrazing is a looming problem.
The horses on Letea Island are black or bay, without white spots. They stand between 1.45 and 1.50 m (14.1 and 14.3 hands) and are strongly built. They are different from the smaller horses of Sfântu Gheorghe, which is nearby. They are not of a riding horse build, but are built like the working horses of Hungary.
In 2002, some of these horses were captured and transported to Italy for slaughter. Some organizations objected to removal, holding that the horses had value in being adapted to the location and possessing natural social behavior. Another push for removal and slaughter began in 2009, but horses cannot be currently removed from the area because a number of animals carry equine infectious anemia. Therefore, according to Romanian regulation, they are not allowed to be taken out of the quarantine area. Currently, there is an ongoing project, in collaboration with the World Wide Fund for Nature, seeking to find a way to remove these horses. While some organizations object to total removal and advocate for some animals to remain, others are attempting to find a different preserve for the horses to live.
In 2010, authorities and environmentalists proposed killing the horses as a solution to their overpopulation. International animal welfare organization FOUR PAWS (www.four-paws.us) reacted immediately to this and 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 save the wild horses. A contraceptive vaccine, which blocks fertilization for at least a year or more, is given to as many mares (female horses) as possible. The booster vaccination can then be performed from a safe distance with a dart gun so that no mares have to be captured. This harmless, fast, and non-invasive method of birth control is highly recommended by specialists. Neutering the same amount of stallions (male horses) on the other hand would be much more costly and time consuming, and would not lead to a sustainable reduction of the population. In April 2017, FOUR PAWS conducted an aerial census, which showed the current population to be less than 500 horses. To learn more about our project visit: http://www.four-paws.us/projects/horses/
- Mirel Bran (July 27, 2010). Romanians split over environmental impact of Danube delta's wild horses. The Guardian. Accessed October 2015.
- Project Proposed: Biodiversity Preservation in the Danube Delta - Letea Natural Reserve by saving the last wild horses in Europe and some protected vegetable species as well as developing methods to generate alternative incomes for inhabitants in the area. Arca lui Noe. Accessed October 2015.
- "Mustangul de România" (in Romanian), Gândul, February 25, 2009
- Dezastru ecologic: În Delta Dunării caii sălbatici distrug Letea (in Romanian), Jurnalul Naţional, January 15, 2009
- "Caii sălbăticiţi distrug puieţii din Pădurea Letea" (in Romanian), Adevărul, October 12, 2007
- "Natural and cultural grazing in the Danube Delta." Consultancy Herds and Homelands