Annual Report, 2000

With the exception of September and October, the year 2000 was spent on Abaco with the Project actively engaged in preservation of the horses. September and October were spent in South Florida where most of the time was devoted to obtaining medical supplies, public relations and fund raising. Field equipment was overhauled and upgraded at this time as well.

The herd, as of December 31, stands at 18 head. The year and a half old filly Enif (a pacer) died of a massive hemorrhage shortly after mating. It was suggested that the stallion, being much larger than the filly, penetrated the wrong orifice and caused the death inadvertently. Were the horses on their own preserve and divided into specific breeding groups, and if matings were accomplished under observation, this death could have been averted. Enif was a healthy and exceptional horse. Four of her leg bones were sent to England for analysis by Dr. Alan Boyde of the University of London. He is engaged in race horse leg stress analysis. Enif’s bones will provided a basis for a comparison with a different breed, and should provide us with some insight into the bone morphology of our horses. No results have been provided as yet.

The herd lost a nine month old pinto stallion foetus when his mother was attacked by a stallion other than the foal's sire. Dr. Robert Alan did an autopsy and confirmed that the foal was perfectly healthy though its internal organs showed signs of having been crushed, confirming the ‘rape’ as the cause of the abortion. Samples sent out showed no signs of any pathology. This death too could have been avoided if the horses were kept within specific breeding groups.

Before our departure in September, one mare, Adhara, appeared to be on the brink of giving birth. When we returned, her shape had changed to the extent that we assumed she might have aborted. To date, while she remains rather large, she has not shown signs of developing an udder. Since we have no way of knowing, under current circumstances, when the mares conceive, we simply must wait to see if anything further develops. Three other mares appear to be pregnant. Since all the mares are plump, it is impossible to tell when they will give birth. The best that can be done at this point is to watch for udder development and hope that critical signs become obvious during the time of a regular visit. Since tell tale excretions can occur as shortly as 48 hours before birth, it is entirely possible that no assistance will be available during the coming births and the foals will be at risk.

Four horses (three mares and a stallion) were saved from certain death after they had stepped on roofing nails. Interestingly, three of the horses picked up nails in the left fore hoof. In one case the mare was tranquilized, the nail removed, the area around the puncture was opened and drained, and the hoof was packed with Epsom salts and Betadyne. Dr. Robert Alan and Mr. David Knowles did the procedure. A course of penicillin completed the treatment. Shortly after this horse had healed she suffered a serious and deep puncture in her left shoulder. Despite the depth and extent of the wound she healed without complications.

Two other horses’ nails were removed by a person on the farm who was familiar with horses. The animals were in such pain that they were down on the ground and he was able to remove the nails. Both received penicillin. With this person’s assistance a fourth horse was tranquilized on the instruction of Dr. Alan, and wrapped like the first one. Without timely intervention these four horses would have been lost to massive infections.

Due to the high cost of obtaining a single blood sample (including tranquilization, room and board for the vet, vet fees etc.), and due to the traumatic nature of obtaining the sample ( three times the normal dose of tranquilizer barely buckled the knees of one stallion, who had to be roped in order to draw blood), it was decided to stop all further DNA sampling until a better method could be devised. A special biopsy dart, (based on models developed for marine mammals) was developed and proved to be highly successful. The dart allows removal of a tiny tissue sample via a dart from a blowpipe. The method is stressless as the horse reacts as though bitten by a bee, and immediately goes back to grazing. The method is cheap, costing about $60 per sample, compared to the $600 bill for the last horse sampled under the old method. All the horses have been sampled, two have to be done again because the samples went bad. Unfortunately, the two samples were from the two most elusive horses and it cannot be predicted when they will be sampled again.

The results from prior tests and from the most recent samples indicate clearly that the horses “most closely resemble Paso Finos,” proving Spanish (probably Columbian) origins. This statement is from the late Dr. Ann Bowling of the UCLA Equine Genetics Laboratory at Davis, California. Dr. Gus Cothran of the University of Kentucky genetics lab is also involved in the DNA analysis and he will be carrying on the work of Dr. Bowling.

We have had many inquiries about the large number of pinto horses in our herd, since the splash white pattern is considered extremely rare. If the horses "prove homozygous for the paint or splash paint gene" they could be even more rare than anticipated, and of great value. Dr. Cothran has expressed an interest in conducting a search for a splash white gene once the horses are established on a preserve and are engaged in a structured breeding program. This level of research could be of great value and importance throughout the equine world.

A visit was made to Nassau, in January when we addressed three officials in the Veterinary Department of the Department of Agriculture. We pleaded the case for preservation and a special area for the horses inside a larger conservation area.

A similar, follow up trip was done in May. Unfortunately we were not able to address the Director of Agriculture who was called away from the meeting.

In April water from four water holes on the farm was tested, one hole was found to have E. Coli in it.

A local fund raising campaign provided the funds to purchase a Stroberg Porta Corral to use to sequester at risk or injured horses. A local company transported the corral from Florida gratis. We were able to obtain a waiver of duty from Central Government. Local volunteers transported the corral to the farm, and the on site Farm Manager gave us permission to store the corral on farm property, available for rapid deployment when needed. The corral has been donated to the Department of Agriculture for primary use for the horses, but it is available for other emergency needs, provided the horses don’t need it at that particular time.

Our local Agricultural Agent Mr. David Knowles was introduced to the horses first hand. He later assisted in field surgery with Dr. Alan.

Mr. Knowles is in the process of formulating a plan for control of free roaming dogs on the farm. Since a plan of this sort is critical to the well being of the horses this may represent a major step forward in the preservation of the horses.

In October we received an emergency grant of $500 from the Humane Society of the United States, to be used for medications and emergency supplies. Those funds have been spent as follows:
8/01 $40.00 to Carol Grant, Community Animal Hospital, penicillin
8/16 $20.00 to Dr. Owen Hanna, penicillin
8/28 $64.12 to Chemist Shoppe, penicillin
9/28 $147.00 to American Veterinary Supply, pain killers, analgesics, tranquilizer
Total to end of year.: $271.12

In December we obtained a $2200 grant via the Humane Society of the United States from the Alice Morgan Wright - Edith Goode Fund, to start a hoof care program for each horse. We hope this will be underway by March, 2001. We have obtained donations of necessary tools, and wholesale prices on tranquilizers. A vet in Tampa is working on getting a more concentrated formulation of one of the tranquilizers we need. Our vet has suggested a cost of $100.00 per horse, provided there are no complications.

A 30 minute video has been completed and we are taking it to all the schools on Abaco in 2001.

Prepared and submitted a draft 10 year projection of potential results of combining efforts to save the horses with Scouting and Eco Tourism activities.

A full color flyer has been designed, the printing cost was donated. The flyer is being distributed in the book shop, at the airport, at the Christmas Bazaar, etc.

A number of organizations have expressed an interest in supporting our efforts financially and with expertise, Among them are the Humane Society of the United States, The International League for the Protection of the Horse, The Lusitano Horse Preservation Society and the American Livestock Breeds Conservancy. The Abaco Wild Horses appeared on the cover of Gaited Horse Magazine. We have found an experienced volunteer who will help us set up a genealogy and studbook based on our DNA results. The Surdna Foundation and Summer Lee Foundation have invited us to submit proposals for grants.

In May we opened a paperback, CD and video trading post, "A Buck a Book." Donations go directly to the horse fund. In October we began the search for a new office and book shop space since our old office was going to be renovated and upgraded beyond our budget. In December a 20’ steel container was donated to the fund. It has been placed next to an established pet shop which is located next to a veterinary office. Odd lots of paint and lumber have provided shelves and made it habitable. Plans for inexpensive and easy to build modular roofing are being developed by a volunteer.

An address and the video were presented to Cherokee Sound All Age School and to the Green Turtle Cay School.

Nearing completion is a series of over 24 photo impressionist prints of the horses to be offered in exchange for donations via the web site. Several of these prints are being translated into Cross Stitch patterns for sale on the web site. A local crafts shop has expressed an interest in these patterns. Illustrations are in process for a coloring book, a volunteer in the US has offered to have the books printed. They would be available on the web site and several schools have expressed an interest in them.

The web site has been maintained and updated, including an illustrated article which shows how closely the phenotype of our horses resembles that of the original Spanish horses brought to the new world.

The horses are sufficiently rare and unique that we are starting the steps to have them declared a distinct breed, indigenous only to Abaco. These horses are a precious commodity that needs to be preserved for future generations, not only for the potential improvement of other breeds of horses, but for the benefit of Bahamian citizens and their guests who will be able to experience first hand the thrill of being among wild animals in their own habitat without the interference of human dominance issues.

We have noticed with dismay increasing incursions by non Bahamian people into the forest area that could be used for a conservation area. Towards the end of a year a back hoe was introduced and entire acres of pine trees are being leveled and bananas and other crops planted without permits of any sort. More recently, yet another house is being constructed on crown land.

We are still restricted to one day a week observation, but have obtained permission to visit on alternate Fridays. We have also been able to visit more frequently if a horse or horses are in need of treatment, for example if a horse must get a course of penicillin shots over a period of days. While the situation is nowhere near optimum, it certainly is an improvement. We appear to have good rapport with the current, on site farm manager. (02-09-01, upgraded to two days per week).

We have seen a definite increase in willingness of people on the farm to report locations of horses during visits, and several of the people living on the farm have expressed interest and concern.

The horses remain totally on the farm, and in fact have limited their travels to the central part of the farm. This has resulted in the increased need for hoof care as they are not traveling far enough to keep their hooves pared down. Their forest trails are overgrown and unused. As noted in last year’s report this is probably due to the devastating fires that swept the area after hurricane Floyd and due to the presence of pig hunters in the area. This is unfortunate not only for the health of the horses’ feet but because they will gradually become less and less accustomed to the forest which was their original home and to which they should return. Many of the pintos, with their white faces, are suffering severe sunburns. If they were back in the shade of the forest the risk of cancer would be much reduced.

The horses remain in a terribly vulnerable position. Without timely intervention, the herd would now be down to 10. Certainly the losses of both filly and foetus were preventable. As noted elsewhere, the horses live in an equine paradise. If the situation were normal we should be overrun with horses and our problem should be that of appropriate contraception. Instead, we stand to lose the entire herd at a single stroke.

We cannot stress enough the importance of the pleas we have made during the nine years of this project: that the horses be recognized as a national treasure, that they be given a preserve area where they will be safe from the ever recurring dangers of fire, barbed wire and roaming dogs (even after the domestic dogs on the farm are brought under control, feral dogs will remain a threat) and that we be permitted to establish a controlled breeding program as soon as possible. There are no mysteries here. We know why most of the horses have died over the past years. Most of the deaths were preventable. A preserve and an emergency breeding program will allow us to optimize the rare and precious genetic material we have at hand and will permit people to visit and see first hand these rare and beautiful animals roaming unfettered in their distinctive forest habitat.

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