In 2011 ARK Nature and the Bulgarian foundation Friends of the Rhodope Cow released a group of 15 Konik horses into nature near Sbor in the Eastern Rhodopes in southern Bulgaria. Later an additional 27 horses were released in the Boynik area west of Sbor. Koniks are lookalikes of the Tarpan, the wild horse that used to be common in East Europe. Together with free-roaming bovines, these horses are a vital part of the regional ecosystem. Their grazing keeps the landscape open and varied, which is key to promoting plant and animal diversity.
In 2018 the number of Koniks in the area had grown to about 80 animals. The herd is fully adapted to the snow-laden winters and dry summers, and able to counter attacks by wolves. However, despite the fact that these horses live in the wild, behave like wild animals and are perceived by the public as wild animals, for regulatory purposes they are still considered to be domestic. Hence they are subject to all kinds of regulations: among other things, they have to be chipped for identification, kept behind fences, and blood-tested annually.
These free-roaming horses, however, deserve the official status of being wild animals. Within the project Status Wild, ARK Nature works with the Bulgarian foundation Friends of the Rhodope Cow on the recognition of this wild status. If we succeed, Bulgaria will be the first country within the European Union where former domestic animal species gain the wild status. Organisations in several countries are interested in the steps being made in Bulgaria. Official recognition of the wild status of Konik horses will have an impact across Europe and change the way Europeans perceive wild-living horses.
See also www.statuswild.eu.