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Bulgaria’s first Tarpans to be reintroduced in the Eastern Rhodopes

Date: 01.09.2011

Early September Tarpans (wild horses) are planned to be reintroduced first time in Bulgaria in the region of the Eastern Rhodopes. This unique introduction is part of the wilderness restoration activities of the Bulgarian-Dutch project for the sustainable development of the Eastern Rhodopes, the New Thracian Gold (NTG).

It is intended to start with 12 Tarpans in the area of Sbor, Municipality of Krumovgrad. The location was visited yesterday by Rikus and Sjimen, the two Charity Ambassadors sent by Dutch Postcode Lottery, the project financing organization. Both are in the region of the Eastern Rhodopes between 25 August and 2 September. Those horses will be imported from the Netherlands and are the offspring of a free living population. In the first year of the Bulgarian experiment wildlife experts will keep the Tarpans fenced for appropriate habituation to the Rhodopian wilderness. When the horses are accustomed to Bulgarian nature, they shall be released to the wild. Their role in Eastern Rhodopi nature will be the same as in ancient times: to graze the wild vegetation, to mold the wilderness and to support a natural ecosystem. Wild Tarpans have a reputation of being tough and easily adapted to the harsh conditions of semi-open wilderness landscapes.

Tarpan (Equus ferus ferus), also known as Eurasian wild horse, is an extinct subspecies of the wild horse. The Tarpan is a prehistoric wild horse type that ranged from Southern France and Spain east to central Russia. There are cave drawings of what are considered to be Tarpans in France, Spain and Scandinavia, as well as artifacts from southern Russia, where Scythian nomads domesticated a horse of this type around 3000 BC. Also in Bulgaria paleaontologistst found Tarpan bones, which is a prove that this wild horse once lived here. Tarpans got extinct in wild nature between 1875 and 1890, when the last known wild mare was accidentally killed in Russia during an attempt to capture it. The last captive Tarpan died in 1909 in a Russian zoo. Tarpan inhabited in the past Bulgaria then he was exterminated by the people.

Beginning in the 1930s, several attempts were initiated to re-create a look-a-like tarpan through selective breeding with domestic races which allegedly retained much Tarpan DNA in their genome. The look-a-like Tarpan that is going to be reintroduced in Bulgaria is also known as Konik (Polish for ‘little horse’). This breed originates from Polish tarpan re-creation projects. In 1936 Tadeuzs Vetulani was fascinated by the exterior resemblance of some specific primitive farmer’s horses and the extinct Tarpan. He started a breeding program with 35 such horses from an area where a century earlier the last Tarpans were captured in the wild and distributed to farmers. In some countries – like in the Netherlands – this Polish Konik has been reintroduced to nature parks very successfully some thirty years ago.

Tarpans (137-149 cm tall, 400-500 kg, max age: 25-30 years) are robust horses with very well developed social behaviour. A social herd of horses is a very strong opponent towards predators (wolves). Such horse group is perfectly capable of protecting their foals, according to the experts. Towards humans Tarpans expose their quiet, inquisitive and well-intentioned character. The total number of Tarpans in the world at this moment is around 4000, almost half of them are in the Netherlands. In 2010, 21 Dutch Tarpans were reintroduced to Latvian nature. In previous years Tarpans from Holland also recolonised English, French, Belgian and German nature areas.

Before implementing the reintrodution of the Tarpans the NTG team has of course done preliminary inquiries about suitable areas in the Eastern Rhodopes, about the Bulgarian legislation and official requirements. The team organised meetings with local authorities and local people, because local cooperation is necessary in such unique experiment.

Bringing Tarpans to the Eastern Rhodopes is part of the wilderness restoration plans of the NTG project. Last year, semi-wild Karakachan horses have been reintroduced in the area of Chernichino. Red deer reintroduction is also in the forthcomming plans.

It is the ecologist’s opinion that the reintroduction of ancient herbivores in the wild improves the biodiversity and makes the ecosystems more complete. The nature component of the NTG project goes hand in hand with the tourism part. Free ranging wild horses are very rare in Europe and unique in Bulgaria. The combination of beautiful landscapes, rich biodiversity and wild Tarpan horses is a potential key factor in boosting eco tourism as a new economic driver in the Eastern Rhodopes. Eco tourism helps to support the Eastern Rhodopes as a prosperous and attractive place to live and work.

The New Thracian Gold is a five-year project (2009-2014) for the sustainable development of the Eastern Rhodopes executed by the Dutch environmental organizations ARK and Avalon, which have extensive international experience in projects for environmental protection and organic farming. The project is financed by Dutch Postcode Lottery, the biggest charity lottery in the country, which supports 80 non-governmental organizations working for a fairer, greener world.
The New Thracian Gold is the unique project with an integrated approach combining the work on three components: wildlife, organic farming and ecotourism. Improving wildlife and biodiversity of the Eastern Rhodopes through rewilding the characteristic mosaic landscape. Rewilding through reintroduction of ancient herbivores like tarpans, shorthorn-cattle, red deer etc. Eastern Rhodopes have all the prerequisites to become a center for ecotourism - a stunning nature, huge variety of flora and fauna, rich cultural heritage. Combined with organic farming it not only provides quality food, but it creates jobs, raises living standards of local people and reduces the depopulation of the area.

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