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Photo Story on the Tarpans

Dnevnik daily publishes a photo story on the tarpans near to the village of Sbor, Krumovgrad Municipality. The author of the story is the Dirk van Harten, the only Dutch journalist working and living in Bulgaria. Since October 2008, he is a correspondent in Bulgaria for Dutch national newspaper Trouw and press agency ANP. His articles further appear in magazines and on websites.

 

Within a day the tarpan photo story of Dirk got more than 10 000 hits!

 

See the photo story of Dirk here and read text in English below

 

In September 2011, a herd of 12 tarpans was released near the abandoned village of Sbor, not far from Krumovgrad. The tarpan is a distant relative to the wild horse that in ancient times grazed all over Europe.

 

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The herd was transported to the Rhodopes by the Bulgarian-Dutch project The New Thracian Gold, that promotes sustainable development in the Eastern Rhodopes.

 

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The horses were imported from the Netherlands and spent their first weeks in a secluded corral, adapting to their new environment. By now they have left the corral and graze in a wider area, although within an enclosure. Once they are fully adapted, they will be allowed to roam free.

 

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Like all wild horses, tarpans are smaller than most of their domesticated relatives. On their short legs and with their wide skull they make a sturdy appearance. Tarpans are known for their toughness and ability to live under harsh conditions. This makes them extremely suited for a life in the wilderness of the Rhodopes.

 

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Tarpans are not the only horses living in these mountains. Near the town of Madzharovo a herd of Karakachan horses has been released and there are horses like this one, semi wild gypsy horses. In late autumn gypsies set their horses free for winter and let them live in the mountains. In spring they collect them and put them to work again.

 

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Near the village of Sbor hunters have left behind the tail of a wolf they shot. Some fear that big grazing animals may attract big predators like the wolf. Ecologists however state that these concerns are ungrounded.

 

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Wild horses live together in herds of usually one adult male and a harem of females. These herds can group together and form bigger herds, sometimes of several thousands of animals.

 

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This young male got into a fight with the dominant male in the herd and since lives separated from the others. The caretakers of the herd try to get him reintegrated, but so far without success. On his own the young male doesnt stand much chance of survival.

 

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Herds of grazing animals help preserve or restore the traditional open landscape. The animals feed on the grasses and lower shrubs, thus preventing them from growing into forests. In the Eastern Rhodopes also graze several herds of shorthorn cattle. Preparations are being made for reintroducing the European bison in the area.

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Traditionally the landscape in the Eastern Rhodopes is mosaic, with pastures alternating with forests. A diverse landscape contributes to a rich biodiversity. The open fields are the habitat for butterflies, insects, small mammals and birds; animals that also feed on the manure of big herbivores. The presence of small mammals and birds in turn attracts birds of prey and other predators. While scavengers like jackals, ravens, wild boars or griffon vultures feed on the carcasses of the dead herbivores. Thus a complete ecosystem can develop.

 

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An abandoned farm house near the village of Sbor. When the people living here left the area, they took their animals with them. What used to be pastures is since then slowly turning into forestland. Its a negative side of depopulation.

 

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The abandoned village of Sbor. Everywhere in Europe people still migrate from rural areas to the big cities. According to the European Commission, as a result in 2020, some 60 million hectares of agricultural land will have been deserted.

 

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Without human intervention this might be what the Rhodopes look like in the future: trees and shrubs.

 

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In the Netherlands, Latvia, France, Estonia and Great Britain big herds of tarpans graze the nature reserves in order to preserve the open landscape.

 

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Every year thousands of tourists go there hoping to catch a glimpse of the horses. In Latvia, a part of the tourism development has developed around the horses, with guesthouses and organised excursions.

 

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For a poor town like Krumovgrad this may offer possibilities for economic development, other than a controversial goldmine that not that many in the area really seem to want.

 

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The Eastern Rhodopeshere seen near the Borovitsa riveroffer big possibilities for alternative tourism, like hiking, bird watching or canoeing.

 

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Within Europe, the Eastern Rhodopes are already one of the areas with the richest biodiversity. Only not that many people know about this. Not even in Bulgaria.

 

By developing a tourist infrastructure with guesthouses, shops and restaurants tourism can offer villagers a livelihood other than small scale animal farming or growing tobacco (as seen here in the village Rabovo), a crop whose days in Europe are numbered. Sustainable tourism may save villages in the Eastern Rhodopes from the faith Sbor suffered.

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