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Wild Ponies of The Holy Isle
World Horse Welfare Field Officers last month visited The Holy Isle, a Buddhist monastery and retreat located just off the Isle of Arran on the west coast of Scotland, to monitor the condition of 34 wild Eriskay ponies that inhabit the island.
Leanne McPake and John Burns spent five hours trekking across the island to monitor the welfare of the ponies that live in six clearly defined herds. Although they live as wild ponies, they are classed as a 'protected animal' under the Animal Health and Welfare (Scotland) Act 2006 and so World Horse Welfare Field Officers periodically monitor the herds to identify and resolve any welfare issues that arise.
Field Officer Leanne McPake said:
“The ponies all appear to be in good condition, indicating to us that the ponies have the best chance of weathering the harsh winter well. They are thriving on the varied vegetation and terrain of the island, and we were pleasantly surprised with the state of the ponies’ hooves which are in relatively good condition for ponies that have never seen a farrier.
"The island ferry only runs throughout the summer months, so we have a small window within the year to visit the ponies. We will come back annually to document how the population are faring and if there are any births or deaths.
"Our primary concern is to ensure the ponies’ welfare, so if and when any major welfare problems arise they are assessed and resolved on an individual basis. Because these are unhandled wild ponies, any intervention needs to be carefully planned to minimise stress and to ensure the safety of both the handlers and the ponies.”
The population has grown considerably since five ponies were introduced to the island in the early 1970s, along with five cows, five goats and 20 sheep, as part of a land management programme. The cows were later removed, leaving the ponies, goats and sheep to inhabit the island. The pony numbers remained static until 1990 when a stallion was introduced and numbers began to multiply.