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Monday, 22 October, 2001, 14:34 GMT 15:34 UK
Animal lovers save moor ponies
Dartmoor ponies
About 200 ponies have been bought by animal lovers
Animal lovers have saved Dartmoor ponies from a threatened cull by buying them up at an auction.

But others may still die unless their gesture is repeated at future sales.

The season's first bidding for the free-roaming ponies took place at Chagford, Devon, on Monday.

Animal lovers came from across England to buy animals after national reports that the RSPCA and the Dartmoor Commoners Association were planning a mercy-cull.

The RSPCA said slaughtering a possible 500 ponies was better than allowing them to starve on the high moors in winter.

You can't save them all but you just want to do your little bit

Georgina Andrews, pony buyer
There were fears that the animals would be abandoned because foot-and-mouth regulations were preventing some sales, and owners could not afford food and shelter.

Those that survived a winter on the moors could add to an over-breeding problem, threatening the integrity of the ancient blood line.

About 200 ponies were sold at Chagford by 1200 BST.

Joanne Cutts travelled from Lincoln to buy one.

She said: "We have ponies at home and we love them, and we think it's a shame that healthy animals could be culled."

Georgina Andrews, from Hampshire, bought two.

Best animals

She said: "You can't save them all but you just want to do your little bit."

Rendells auctioneers had asked farmers to bring only their best animals.

Maureen Rolls, one of the Dartmoor commoners, said: "It's fantastic.

Annual pony round-up
Many commoners cannot afford winter shelter
"It's something we needed, people taking these ponies home and keeping their own ponies company."

In the past, well-meaning people have bought without realising the commitment involved in keeping an animal that can live for 35 years.

Some have even been found abandoned by their new owners in Plymouth city centre.

Inspector Len Rankin of the RSPCA said the animals appeared to be going to good buyers.

But he also said the crisis had highlighted a growing problem over the number of ponies being kept on the moor.

Unwanted colts

"It's been going on for many years," he said.

"The farmers have got to a watershed now and they realise there is a problem.

"It's been brought home by foot-and-mouth and the problems they have had getting feed in for their farms, let alone for the ponies."

He said many farmers might now decide not to keep colts.

"Any they don't want will almost certainly be culled on the farms."

Only half the usual number of sales have been planned for the autumn - meaning some healthy adult ponies may still have to be slaughtered.

See also:

09 Oct 01 | England
Dartmoor ponies face cull
13 Jul 00 | Wales
Concern at 'ponies for 1'
05 Nov 99 | Sci/Tech
Conservationists rely on pony power
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