BYLINE: John Mooney
SECTION: HOME NEWS; Eire News; Pg. 8
LENGTH: 541 words
WILD ponies from herds that roam the forests, moors and mountains of Britain are being smuggled into Ireland and sold to teenagers at horse fairs.
Feral ponies can be bought for as little as E200 and are heavily sedated to disguise their untamed origins.
The Dublin Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (DSPCA) said the horses pose a serious threat to public safety. The organisation claims the animals have caused several car accidents when the sedatives wear off, leaving unsuspecting buyers struggling to control them.
“These poor ponies are usually sedated when they are sold at horse markets like Smithfield. When the sedatives wear off, the animals run from their owners and often cause accidents when trying to escape,” said Jimmy Cahill, the DSPCA general manager.
“I was recently called to a scene in west Dublin where a pony crashed into seven cars while running wild. It took 30 people to finally catch it. In the end, we had to shoot it with a tranquilliser dart. The pony had never been near people and was terrified of human contact,” he said.
“I have also seen wild ponies impale themselves on fences while trying to escape from enclosures, and run straight into traffic. The trade in these wild animals needs to be stopped before someone is injured.”
Wild ponies still roam free in parts of Britain, although local farmers and breeders supplement their diet with hay during the winter. Up to 3,000 ponies are on Dartmoor, in Devon, while Welsh mountain ponies live wild in Snowdonia. Ponies also thrive in the New Forest in Hampshire.
Domesticated pure-bred specimens sell for £ 25,000 (E37,000) or more each, but wild specimens have crossbred and each new generation weakens the bloodline.
Many are considered feral and are rounded up each autumn by local authorities to control numbers because they have no natural predators.
Most of the herded animals are supposed to be slaughtered for food, with their meat mostly sent to Italy and France. Increasing numbers, however, are smuggled to Ireland. Dealers can buy them for £ 1 (E1.48) each after an annual round up.
Although European law prohibits the movement of horses between member countries without a pet passport, British horse dealers are permitted to ship live ponies into Northern Ireland without any documentation.
“Once a consignment of wild ponies arrives in the north from Britain they are loaded into a horse box and driven across the border. The Department of Agriculture doesn’t inspect consignments of ponies from the north, nor is it interested in the welfare of these little horses.
“I have seen 14-year-old boys pay E200 or E250 for a wild pony. These youngsters are never told the animal is sedated or was born in the wild, and they have no idea how to handle a wild horse when the sedation wears off,” said Cahill.
The 1996 Control of Horses Act requires a chip to be inserted into all horses to identify their owners but this has yet to be enforced.
“These animals are afforded little or no protection by the law. Technically they are domesticated animals but they are really wild. No one is allowed sell wild animals to teenagers but that’s what’s happening. It is only a matter of time before one of these horses bolts in front of a car and causes a fatality.”