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Spain harnesses the power of horses to deal with wildfires, drawing from global success stories

This move revives an ancient tradition of using free-roaming horses to graze the land, which helps reduce combustible vegetation and lowers the risk of wildfires.

Spain harnesses the power of horses to deal with wildfires, drawing from global success stories
Cover Image Source: (L) Pexels | Mehmet Turgut Kirkgoz; (R) Pexels | Jan Laugesen

Sometimes going natural is the best solution. It is what Spain aims to do in order to deal with its uncontrollable wildfires, reports Recently, Europe has recorded its highest temperature, which has led to intense heat waves and wildfires. These wildfires have been ravaging places like Greece, Spain and Switzerland. The trend of high temperatures makes it likely that the wildfires will continue. It has slowly led to increasing challenges for authorities.

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In such situations, free-roaming horses have come as a magical aid to combat wildfires. May of this year saw the conservation organization Rewilding Spain introducing a herd containing 10 Przewalski’s horses to the Iberian Highlands. In all probability, it is not a new phenomenon. In the Iberian Highlands, various cave paintings feature horses similar to Przewalski’s – an endangered sub-species of the wild horse (Equus ferus). It proves that they were present in this region 4,000 years ago. This move by the conservation organization has kick-started a previous tradition in place.

These horses will be enclosed in 17 hectares of the highlands. The horses will be free to roam around the 5,700 hectares of public forest. Their diet will also be a boon as they will have vast quantities of grass and leaves from shrubby trees. It will reduce the amount of combustible vegetation, reducing the risk of wildfire. In the past Iberian highlands were grazed by both sheep and horses. They were mainly used for threshing and agriculture, after which they were allowed to roam around the field freely. This tradition stopped because of rural depopulation and land abandonment. The lack of grazing led to the landscape being overgrown with pastures, which contributed to wildfires.

The current number of 10 will not make much of a difference, but Rewilding Spain is happy that an effort has been started and aims to increase the number. Pablo Schapira, the team leader of Rewilding Spain, said, “We are looking forward to seeing how the animals interact with the larger landscape. Ten individuals is a good number to start a new population, especially since this is a social group.” They hope that horses also enhance the biodiversity of the locale.

The organization hopes the grazing will create half-open, half-wooded landscapes, inviting scavengers like vultures and carnivores, such as the Iberian lynx. They are also hoping for the dung of these animals to add enrichment to the soil and enhance its fertility.

There have been multiple attempts, such as these, around the world to introduce natural agents to combat the damaging effects of deforestation. Howth, an inner suburb area of Ireland, reintroduced an endangered breed of native goats to control wildfires that endanger livelihood and property. Santa Juana in southern Chile, an organization called Buena Cabra, utilized goats in order to create firebreaks in the native forest of Bosques de Chacay. This method seems to be working perfectly, as a forest fire that damaged almost 440,000 hectares in south-central Chile did not get to Bosques de Chacay. According to conservationists, it happened because the bushes were kept under control by goats.

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