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To have a horse and eat it too...

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Yes, the GT team has always maintained (braving the wrath of some of it’s readers, if I may add!)that a conservation strategy works only if it has a clearly defined role for human beings to play in it. It might be concerning particular species of flora and fauna or some other living resource, but it can be a winner, and remain sustainable, only if humans, too, are seen to have a stake in it.

A rather unpleasant scenario, right? Leaves us homo sapiens, the ‘rational’ animals, look as if we are fit only to play the role of a Selfish Giant. Or a Monster Bully may be. The truth, however, is even stranger. So read on.

Dying in Dartmoor

To save the local breed of ponies from dying out, the people of Dartmoor have decided to eat them. A unique feat, right? Now here is the story in the background.

As they frolic in the rolling, wild moorlands of North England, the herds of sleek, some gorgeously spotted Dartmoor ponies present a breathtaking view. That these animals might cease to exist in a couple of years is a disturbing thought. “But it is going to happen,” says a grim faced resident of Dartmoor, "Breeding horses,taking care of the foals cost a substantial sum. Earlier the money we made from selling the ponies and their offsprings allowed us to continue keeping herds on the moor. Now no one wants to buy ponies any more and business is very sluggish.”

But the people are not ready to give up just yet. To the farmers,living here for generations,the ponies are as much a part of the landscape as the drifts, or the moorland sweeps. In fact, these animals are a vital link in the ecosystem. They graze the heather and gorse to keep the wild moor under control, which in turn allows Dartmoor’s unique flora and fauna to flourish. High brown and pearl-bordered fritillary butterflies, for example, thrive in the bracken the ponies trample and clear.

If you can’t sell ‘em, eat ‘em!

Clearly drastic action is the order of the day. And the Dartmoor folks have decided to take it. The autumn newsletter of the Friends of the Dartmoor Hill Pony charity declared, “In order to save the Dartmoor pony, we must start eating them’.

Charlotte Faulkner, the 52-year-old founder of the Dartmoor Hill Pony Association, and a new offshoot, Dartmoor Conservation Meat, is one of the main proponents of slaughtering the animals for human consumption. In recent months, she says, the firm has used pony meat to experiment with new recipes.

“Across the country, horses are not selling,” she says. “The key with meat is that it would underpin the market but it would be part of a much bigger plan of conservation. The slaughterer is very local and it is done with total compassion.”

Amen to that.

Then, of course, there are nay sayers, too. Faye Stacey of the Devon charity People for Ponies, say a better solution would be to remove stallions from the moor altogether. Eating Dartmoor’s ponies, she says, could turn the national park into a “meat market” Amen to that too.

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To have a horse and eat it too...