Science at the fore in efforts to protect Exmoor’s pony

Exmoor ponies are Britain's oldest domestic pony breed.
Exmoor ponies are Britain’s oldest domestic pony breed. Photo: Me’nthedogs, CC BY 2.0 Via Wikimedia Commons

A scientific advisory committee has been appointed to play a leading role in conservation efforts to save Britain’s oldest pony breed.

The commission is an initiative to ensure a strong scientific contribution to efforts to protect the distinctive Exmoor foal, which is believed to be similar to the original wild ponies that inhabited Britain after the last Ice Age.

The Exmoor Pony Association, which founded the group, wants to lead genetic research and innovation to protect the ancient breed, which had shrunk to just 50 individuals in Exmoor by the end of World War II.

Today, about 500 ponies live in Exmoor in southwest England. Another 3,500 are kept by breeders elsewhere, including abroad. They are popular as baby carriers and are also popularized in conservation grazing schemes.

There is a marked increase in the use of science in the governance and research of horse breeding, as breed societies look to new methods and technologies to make smarter decisions. Besides, there has been a rise in interest in the genetics and biology of Exmoor ponies.

“The Exmoor pony is one of the most popular domestic breeds in the UK and is very much loved by the public here at Exmoor as well as around the world,” says Association President Nigel Hill.

While the population of Exmoors in the genealogy book has grown since it was wiped out in World War II, it is still a ‘priority’ breed according to the Rare Breeds Survival Trust – which basically means it is endangered.

“Our role is to protect the future of such an endangered breed at a time when there are increasing risks from the effects of global warming on habitat, disease and social change.”

Hill says the new Scientific Advisory Committee will ensure that the community is at the forefront of equine genetics, helping Exmoor Pony Society members, breeders, stakeholders and the public understand and support initiatives that may affect Exmoor ponies.

Sue Burger, a member of the Exmoor Pony Society’s Board of Trustees, says there is a growing demand for the community to be able to call on experienced and experienced geneticists, ecologists, veterinary surgeons, and the academic system. The new committee will ensure that the science followed by the community is rigorous and contribute to a greater understanding and conservation of the Exmoor pony breed.

She says that the community previously oversaw its scientific interests through a trustee who was appointed as a scientific officer.

“However, this is now viewed as insufficient, given that scientific interest in Exmoor ponies has increased in recent years, particularly in the field of genetics,” Berger says.

“A panel with such a breadth of knowledge and experience can also be proactive and draw community attention to relevant studies and help members understand and assist initiatives that may affect Exmoor ponies.”

The committee, which has experience designing the sample and understanding the structure of the Exmoor clans, will have the main task of selecting the appropriate stallions to represent the variation within the breed.

The panel includes Professor Marcelo Reggio, Professor of Comparative Oral Microbiology at the University of Glasgow. Dr. Sue Becker, an ecologist with a PhD in Exmoor free-living ecology; Deborah Davey, who has a PhD at the University of Glasgow, studies genetics and ecology at Exmoor. Dr. Philip Davey, researcher in the genetics of human aging at the Biogenesis Research Institute, holds a Ph.D. from the University of Hawaii; and Jay Sinclair, a veterinary surgeon who originally compiled descended maternal lines from established animals recorded in the Society Book.

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