Wednesday, February 8, 2017

Genetic Migration in the Conservation of Sorraia and Sorraia Mustang Horses

(Click on image to enlarge)

It was in January of 2015 when António Monteiro sent me an email inquiry.  António is with the Associação Transmâcua e Natureza, a non-profit organization (established in 2000) in northeastern Portugal.  ATN is dedicated to revitalizing abandoned agricultural landscapes in ways that return them to self-sustaining natural biospheres, as well as creating a new economy that thrives on the ever growing human need to experience wild spaces in non-invasive ways.  ATN presently manages five different nature sites.  Their award-winning ecotourism in the Faia Brava Nature Reserve is testament to the excellent vision and management skills of all involved.

Anótonio's love of nature and commitment to it also extends to horses, specifically those that are allowed to live wild lives.  Among other keystone herbivores, ATN already has incorporated Portugal's Garrano horses into their Faia Brava preserve and are now desiring to create a similar situation for Sorraia horses as well. 

Sorraias formerly of the Vale de Zebro now living in the Côa valley

While traditional breeders of Sorraia horses continue to protect genetic patrimony by utilizing only registered purebred Sorraia stallions and mares into their programs - a course that is no doubt important - they continue to risk further loss of genetic diversity.  

ATN is taking a supportive role along a different path - one that they believe will not only insure the physical and genetic fitness of their horses for virtually autonomous lives in the wild, but will also consolidate and enhance the primitive traits that are attributed to the extinct European Wild Horse (the Tarpan) which morphologically continue to be expressed in local rustic breeds in many European countries, including Portugal.  The Iberian variant of the Tarpan may have been the wild horse of medieval chronicles known as the Zebro, a swift-running, small, mouse-grey, dark-faced, striped equine that remains an enchanting, enigmatic creature even today.   By including Sorraia Mustangs from North America and atavistically striped Lusitano horses along with purebred Sorraia horses, ATN draws from a related yet diverse genetic resource pool, increasing the propagation of notable characteristics of the Zebro.

Having heard about our Sorraia Mustangs from Hardy Oelke and reading about them here in the Journal of Ravenseyrie, António sent me an inquiry regarding what the expenses associated with importing horses from Canada to Portugal might be.  In my reply to António I let him know that the expenses associated with flying horses to Europe are very high indeed, but I provided him with alternative options to check on within Europe.  He connected with Claudia Radbauer in Austria, who imported two fillies from Ravenseyrie in 2012.  

(Claudia's acquisition of our own girls Tocara and Levada born here at Ravenseyrie can be read here and further reading about her Sorraia preservation efforts can be read here and here.)

Over the course of last year, Claudia and António worked out an agreement where ATN would pay for the transportation of three Sorraia Mustang mares from Claudia's herd, which she would continue to own but would loan them to their Sorraia/Zebro rewilding project.  In addition to this, Claudia funded the purchase of an atavistically striped Lusitano colt that was purchased within Portugal to also become part of ATN's Zebro project.

I wanted to wait and report upon this phenomenal event after I knew for sure the mares made a safe journey from Austria to Portugal.  Tocara, Levada and Epona arrived in Portugal in the evening of the 25th of January - a history making event!

Ravenseyrie mares are now in this region of Portugal

Photo: ATN/Faia Brava

To more adequately relay the excitement and importance of our Ravenseyrie offspring sharing their genetics with the Sorraia/Zebro rewilding project in the Côa valley, I put together a mini-documentary which I published on YouTube and include embedded in this journal entry.  Note:  To view the video properly, you may have to go directly to YouTube using this link:  

This rewilding project initiated by ATN is especially timely as last year the Vale de Zebro Sorraia Refuge was terminated due to the land they occupied being sold.  The horses there have been dispersed, but some have been sold to new preservation initiatives like the one ATN has undertaken.

I will be following ATN and their great work and reporting new events with the Sorraias there, here in the Journal of Ravenseyrie.

Some photos from the days when Tocara and Levada were still here in Canada with us at Ravenseyrie on Manitoulin Island:

Levada as a newborn

Levada (left) and Tocara on the Ravenseyrie beach

Tocara!  Such a beauty!

Levada, looking oh so wild!

There are many wonderful articles on the web describing the efforts of ATN, here is one that shows you some of the Sorraias already part of their rewilding project.  Here is a fabulous video showing the Côa Valley and the prehistoric rock art.  And here is an older video that provides a good look at the Faia Brava reserve.