By Milanne Rehor
We were at a critical point in our efforts to preserve the few remaining wild horses on Abaco. Plans were well on the way to restoring reproduction. Sadly, we now are down to only one horse.
Upon reviewing all options for us to achieve this goal it is clear that the only safe, sure way to assist our last horse is by harvesting her eggs and fertilizing them with sperm from a genetically approved stallion, already located. This process is to take place in the US. A detailed timeline of events in the process is available.
There appears to be considerable misinformation circulating about the origins, genetics and value of the Abaco Spanish Colonial Horse. Results of genetic analyses, done at three institutions, show that these horses are Spanish. They are rare. The analyses are readily available.
• IMD, Institut fur molekularbiologische Diagnostik GmbH, Bonn, Germany
• University of California, Davis, Veterinary Genetics Laboratory
• University of Kentucky College of Agriculture, Equine blood typing research laboratory
Two of the many people behind this project give their credentials and reasons for involvement:
Dr. G. Cothran did our initial work at UK. He now maintains our materials at Texas A&M University: “I have a genotyping laboratory that does typing of horses, donkeys, cattle, and cats.
The Colonial Spanish horses are important because they represent a component of equine genetic diversity that no longer exists in its place of origin: Spain and Portugal. All CS population are small in the number of horses and are thus threatened with extinction. The Abaco horse clearly shows evidence of Spanish ancestry and thus represents a CS breed. Loss of any CS gene pool is a loss of the total gene pool of the horse and to CS horses in particular.
Each of the CS populations has a unique set of the total gene diversity of the CS horses. Abaco horses represent a distinct part of that set so that makes them valuable. Even if only a fraction of the gene pool can be saved it maintains some part of that diversity.”
Brad Ray, M.S., of Premier Breeding Services, LLC, holds a Master’s degree in Equine Reproductive Physiology (Colorado State University) and a Bachelor’s degree in Molecular, Cellular and Developmental Biology (University of Colorado). Experienced in the management of large breeding facilities — including Colorado State University’s renowned Equine Reproduction Laboratory and, currently, Premier Breeding Services :
“There is an enormous vortex of energy whirling around one small horse. Beyond the rich historical legacy and genetic significance Nunki carries in her body and spirit, she is the sole survivor of the forces of modernization which have taken the herd which adapted and thrived for so many years on Abaco Island. Ironically, the regeneration of the herd and its survival rely upon technical advancements which evolved due to, and would have been impossible without, the same drive toward technology which has nearly destroyed her herd.”
While the bulk of the reproductive work is being provided pro bono by outstanding professionals from Colorado and at Texas A&M University, there are ongoing local costs for supporting the remaining mare in good health, providing support for local personnel involved in the project, providing support for the incoming professionals and upgrading the preserve for Nunki’s support, the eventual arrival of foals and visitors.
Please find more information on FaceBook: Abaco Horses; or our website: http://www.arkwild.org/blog/
A 25 page Management Plan is available as well.
The horses were brought to Abaco from Cuba in the late 1800’s to haul logs from Abaco’s pine forests. Columbus had established two horse farms in Cuba. By the 1940’s when the forests were to be cut again, tractors were introduced and the horses were abandoned. Cuba brought in a variety of horse breeds to ‘improve’ their stock. The only possible remnants of the original horses there may be the street horses, which the government does not permit to be sold.
The horses thrived despite being hunted for meat and killed for ’sport.’ But 150-200 were killed when a tragic accident brought about the death of a disobedient child. The herd came back after three were rescued, up to 35 by 1992. Hurricane Floyd in 1999 did not kill any horses, but damage in the forest drove them onto the nearby farm that was flooded with herbicides, pesticides and synthetic fertilizers. This started the downhill slide through disruption of the reproductive cycles. Moving the horses to a clean nearby preservation area did not stop that slide which we now are facing with the last viable horse.