Dutch semi wild horses turn wild in Bulgarian Wilderness

4 – 10 - 2013

A group of 30 Dutch rewilded horses are being moved from the Dutch Ooijpolder towards the Bulgarian Eastern Rhodopes. Dutch herds of semi wild koniks annually grow at about 25%. This resulted in the decision of translocation of parts the Ooijpolder population towards the Bulgarian wilderness.

Transport of the wild horses is part of the project New Thracian Gold, which aims to protect and restore this unique wilderness area in southern Bulgaria. Dutch experiences have toughed us that natural grazing by rewilded horses (and cattle, as ecological substitutes of extinct wild horses and aurochs) play a key role in biodiversity management. Due to their presence areas do not get overgrown by grasses or woody vegetation, lots of flowers are flourishing attracting numerous insects, which in turn are an important food source for many birds. Natural grazing in this way contributes to rich and divers landscapes.

Bulgarian wealth

Bulgaria, and particularly the Eastern Rhodopian Mountains, are one of Europes biodiversity hotspots. The area is rich in species. Elsewhere threatened species, are here still found numerously. A richness which is not only important from a natural perspective, but which is also there for us to enjoy.

The Dutch koniks will contribute to this richness. Extensive domestic grazing, which has long maintained local biodiversity, is slowly vanishing from the area. Now rewilded horses reclaim their ancestors wild ecological niche. They graze on palatable grasses, shortening them creating more space for flowers and herbs. During winter times the wild horses nimble at twigs and buds or debark trees, maintaining a semi open landscape. Some of the horses might be hunted by wolves, and when an animal dies it is offered to the local vulture population.

Dutch abundance

The semi wild horse of the Dutch Ooijpolder are being move to prevent winter feeding. The koniks are part of a program to rewild or de-domesticate them. Because of limited size of the Dutch reserve, and it being fenced, it isn’t possible for the animals to migrated to better pastures during wintertime. In the Dutch situation the animals aren’t considered totally wild yet, and as such it’s unwanted for the animals to die by natural causes; food shortage. Winter feeding again leads to domestication instead of rewilding and brings additional costs. Instead Dutch surplus is seen as a change to repopulated rewilding areas elsewhere in Europe.

Second transport

This is not the first transport of semi wild konik horses towards Bulgaria. In September 2011 a first group of 12 animals was moved from the Dutch Millingerwaard reserve. This group has now grown to 17 animals. Learning from previous experiences and knowing the animals are highly welcomed locally, we’ve now decided to bring a second group. These animals are slowly released into the Bulgarian wilderness, at first in a fenced areas so they can get used to local food sources, in a later stage the fence will be taken down. A so called soft release.