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New Zealand: Rare

Kaimanawa Horses

A Rare Breed of New Zealand Origin

Kaimanawa horses in the wild (photo from Kaimanawa Wild Horse Welfare Trust)
Kaimanawa horses in the wild
(Photo courtesy Kaimanawa Wild Horse Welfare Trust)

      The first horses arrived in New Zealand in 1814, and mobs of feral horses were reported as early as the 1870s. The principal (and only remaining) herds became established in the North Island’s Central Plateau, where they became known in general as the “Kaimanawa Wild Horses”.

      Because of increasing concern by the public for their supposed declining numbers, a Committee, under the umbrella of the Forest Service, was formed in 1978 to look after the horses’ interests, and a protected area was established in 1981.

      Subsequently, the Department of Conservation raised questions regarding the impact of the horses on the environment in the area, noting that the major threat to native plants and habitats within the wild horses’ range was the horses themselves. A culling programme aroused great public opposition.

Kaimanawa Rose (Photo from Kaimanawa Wild Horse Welfare Trust)
Kaimanawa Rose
(Photo courtesy Kaimanawa Wild Horse Welfare Trust)

      The Department also carried out research that showed that the animals were not a distinct breed but were the result of many different genetic influences. There was no genetic evidence of special relationships with breeds such as the Exmoor pony as had been suggested by those supporting the herds’ retention. (While the Kaimanawa horses are listed by the Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO) in its register of “biologically unique equines” (as recommended originally by the ‘Wild Horse Committee’), their inclusion is currently being reviewed on the grounds that they do not actually fit the criteria for inclusion.)

      The Department of Conservation currently holds an annual muster of Kaimanawa horses to maintain numbers in the wild at a manageable level, and captured horses are made available for domestication.

      For some years there has been strong public interest in this feral breed, and groups (such as the Kaimanawa Wild Horse Welfare Trust) have been formed to promote their preservation and protection, both in the wild and under domestication. A ‘Kaimanawa Consortium’, which includes representatives of these groups, plus bodies such as the SPCA (Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals) and local iwi (Maori people), has also been formed to communicate support for the welfare of the horses to the New Zealand Government.

      A breed register is being kept for domesticated Kaimanawa horses and they have become increasingly represented in the show ring.

The Rare Breeds Conservation Society of New Zealand thanks Dania Jensen of
the Kaimanawa Wild Horse Welfare Trust for assistance in producing this page

 » More photographs of Kaimanawa Horses

   See also:
 » Feral Breeds statement  
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