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Tuesday, 9 October, 2001, 15:09 GMT 16:09 UK
Dartmoor ponies face cull
Dartmoor ponies
Ponies have roamed free on Dartmoor for centuries
Up to 500 Dartmoor ponies are to be culled because foot-and-mouth restrictions mean they cannot be sold.

The RSPCA says slaughtering them is better than letting them starve and freeze to death on Dartmoor during winter.

The charity South West Equine Protection says a cull would be "morally wrong".

Half this year's Dartmoor pony sales have been cancelled, mostly because of foot-and-mouth restrictions.

Pony round-up
Commoners graze 3,000 wild ponies on Dartmoor
Commoners who have grazing rights on the moor say they have insufficient shelter and feed to look after them over winter.

Dartmoor Commoners' Council and the RSPCA are planning to carry out the cull.

Both say it will be distressing but there is no better option.

"The cull is a fall-back position, but we think it is probably likely," said RSPCA spokeswoman Janet Kipling.

"There could be hundreds of ponies involved, but we hope not.

"It is the welfare of the ponies we care about. Reluctantly we accept if there is nowhere else for them to go the only solution is a humane cull.

"They cannot stay on the moor because they will suffer and die."

Preventing slaughter

Dartmoor National Park Authority is making plans to prevent any repeat of the slaughter.

It wants to cut pony numbers on the moor by reducing the number of stallions.

It is also looking at other alternatives, such as introducing contraception for mares.

There had been fears that the historic autumn round-up of Dartmoor's 3,000 wild ponies - known as The Drift - would be halted by foot-and-mouth disease.

Sales gloom

The Department for Rural Affairs (Defra) waited until last month before deciding whether the centuries-old tradition could continue this autumn.

Officials gave the go-ahead but imposed strict conditions on disinfecting vehicles, animals and people taking part.

Ponies on moor
Dartmoor ponies are a part of the landscape
Pony sales were also allowed to proceed if auctioneers were willing to hold them.

Ponies have been selling for as little as 1 each, which is not enough to cover the cost of holding, feeding and disinfecting the animals.

In the summer, Brian Kind, administrator of the Mare and Foal Sanctuary at Chudleigh, Devon, said younger animals would die if left on the high moors.

But he also warned that surviving colts would cause a risk of over-breeding, damaging the integrity of the ancient breed.

He also raised concerns about the eventual fate of many of the animals.

Some are sold for pet food.

Mr Kind believes that others ended up working on carousels on the continent. These are similar to traditional fairground rides but use chained live ponies.

See also:

13 Jul 00 | Wales
Concern at 'ponies for 1'
05 Nov 99 | Sci/Tech
Conservationists rely on pony power
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