May 10, 2006

Dutch donate animals to Latvia to restore wildlife

AMSTERDAM (Reuters) - The Netherlands is donating more than
two dozen horses and cattle, close relatives of now extinct
species, to Latvia to help the Baltic country preserve its open
lands, conservationists said on Wednesday.

The 23 Konik horses and 2 wild cows will be introduced
later this month in Latvia's Kemeri National Park, where plant
and animal species are threatened because abandoned land is
turning into closed forest, the Dutch-based conservation
organization the Large Herbivore Foundation (LHF) said.

The grazing and roaming of the animals, donated by the
Dutch state forestry service, will help maintain open
vegetation and country, important for the survival of other
species, the group said.

"After the breakdown of the Soviet Union and the restored
independence of the Baltic countries, huge areas of
agricultural land were abandoned," an LHF statement said.

"The abandoned land is slowly overgrown by thickets and
trees, gradually leading to a closed forest. In this process
plant and animal species depending on open vegetations and the
open country disappear."

Konik horses are a primitive breed close to the now extinct
European wild horse, the Tarpan. It inhabited Eastern Europe
until the 19th century when Polish farmers captured the last
Tarpan horses and crossed them with their own workhorses.

The result was a strong, hard working and manageable horse,
which they named the Konik.

The cattle are a relative of the Aurox, the big grazing
ancestor of today's domestic cattle. These wild cattle lived
along rivers and half-open forests with their habitat
stretching over the Eurasian and North African continents.

The Aurox became extinct around 1627, scientists say.

In 2003 and 2004, the LHF with the help of other
conservation groups took Bisons, wild cows and Konik horses to
another Latvian nature park.

The LHF is involved in 30 projects in Europe, Russia,
Mongolia and Central Asia, aiming to protect some 45 species
and restore their ecological role within their original

The Netherlands is one of the world's main breeding centers
for wild horses and cattle.