Hundreds of healthy ponies are being needlessly slaughtered and sold to zoos as ANIMAL FEED because a fall in market price has left left breeders struggling to sell them.
Over 700 Dartmoor hill ponies have been killed in the last 12 months as breeders attempt to reduce their herds.
In 1980, the population was estimated at around 30,000, but this figure has steadily dwindled to around 1,500 this year.
Around 700 of the ponies have been shot in the last 12 months – 100 of which were healthy foals that had not been sold at market due to the recession.
The others were older ponies rounded up for slaughter by breeders who were ordered to reduce the numbers in their herds to help the market recover.
A healthy foal is normally sold privately to riding schools or individual riders for around £100, but the recession has seen the demand dry up.
Knackerman Andrew Goatman, of South Brent, Devon, said he normally disposes of around 100 Dartmoor hill ponies each year – but has seen this figure rocket to seven times that over the last 12 months.
Today he warned the breed faces extinction if the current rate of slaughter continues.
He said: ”I’ve shot 700 ponies this year which is a massive increase on previous years.
”If this continues there is a realistic possibility that they could become extinct.
”We could find there will be none left at all in a few years. The market has been dire for the ponies over the last year.
”For those that can’t be sold it’s kinder to shoot them rather than risk them being dumped or end up in someone’s back garden as a welfare case.
”Breeders have also been told by Natural England to clean up their herds by reducing numbers. It’s worrying.”
Around 250 of the animals put-down by Mr Goatman have been sent to zoos across the country, where they were fed to animals including lions and tigers.
Some were foals, normally bought for around £100 for riding, which failed to sell at market this year because of the financial climate.
Charlotte Faulkner, of the Dartmoor Hill Pony Association, confirmed a ”welfare disposal system” was in place because the market for foals was so poor.
She said: ”At the moment the market for the foals from the moor are at rock bottom as a result of the credit crunch and legislation.
”This creates a welfare problem as they cannot go back on the moor and the breeders cannot keep them in all winter.
”We had to react to the recession and this ensures that the ponies don’t end up becoming welfare cases, which is what is happening in many other parts of the country.”
Breeders, who keep the ponies in herds on the moor, remove foals at around six-months-old and take them on to agricultural land for weaning.
The animals are then taken to market, where around 500 are normally sold every year but, although exact figures are not available, this figure is thought to have dramatically reduced over the last 12 months.
Breeders have also brought hundreds of older ponies for slaughter this year after being told by authorities to reduce the numbers in their herds.
A Pony Action Group, which includes Natural England, has been set up to cover issues such as mare and stallion fertility management.
Andy Guy, an advisor with Natural England, said a ”ten point plan” had been drawn up to reduce the size of the foal crop.
He said: ”The Pony Action Group is continuing to find a workable strategy, part of which is to reduce the number of foals coming to the market.
”These include measures to improve the value of ponies and reduce the size of the foal crop to match demand. How this is achieved is down to the pony keepers to agree.
”While Natural England remains committed to securing a viable and sustainable future for ponies on Dartmoor and is supportive of measures to control and manage the pony population, these measures must be agreeable to a broad range of groups.”
Cherry Seage (corr), secretary of the Dartmoor Commoners’ Council, said the ”huge numbers” of ponies are currently being sent for slaughter across the country.
”Breeding Dartmoor hill ponies is a low cost, low input enterprise. But the minute it doesn’t pay anymore, the pony is at risk.
”I understand that huge amounts of animals are going to slaughter across the country because people just can’t afford to keep them.
”Slaughter houses are full to brimming across the country, so it is not a problem that exists only on Dartmoor.”