A Coruña, Jan 28 (EFE).- The Galician mountain does not have the grandeur and patronage of other higher-altitude mountains on the Peninsula, but it compensates for its inconsequential heights with climatic conditions that make the Galician mountains extraordinary places.
In them, “as bestas” graze freely, as the wild horses that have found an ideal habitat in these inhospitable places are known. Despite this, its population is on the brink of extinction.
The Galician mountain horse, also known as garrano, is an ancestral animal and the axis on which the biodiversity of the environment in which it grazes freely revolves. It supports the rigors of winter thanks to a thick coat.
It spends its life in the bush, unlike what could be considered a common horse, which lives in steppes and meadows. It is shorter and lighter, with shorter limbs.
It retains primitive features such as fringed ears and a bushy upper lip mustache that allows it to feed on thorny gorse. They are also territorial, a peculiar trait of this northern equine.
Due to these common characteristics of horses from the Atlantic areas, zoologist Felipe Bárcena affirmed in a talk with EFE that the Equus ferus atlanticus should be treated as a different subspecies, which he considers to be the only remaining lineage of wild horse in the world.
Although there is debate among the scientific community on this point, paleontological evidence reveals the primitive presence of horse populations in the north of the Iberian Peninsula up to and after the time of horse domestication.
Fossil records place it in the Pleistocene and around them traditional management of the mountain and ancient customs have been preserved, as demonstrated by the numerous rock art found in which the horse is the protagonist.
El curro, the place where the traditional rapas da bestas are held, is cited on more than 1,300 occasions in Galician toponymy, and there are still 30 of these venues to this day. Although it is true that some are no longer in use, others enjoy worldwide fame, as is the case of Sabucedo, where every year thousands of people enjoy an event declared of international tourist interest.
THE MOST VALUABLE ANIMAL
Thus, the Galician mountain horse is considered by many to be the most representative and valuable animal of the wild fauna of Galicia. The besteiros, as the farmers who handle the animal are known, understand their presence in the forest as crucial, since the beasts consume the thick vegetation of the scrubland, thus favoring the appearance of meadows for grazing cattle.
According to the scientific article by Santiago Bas-López, published in the bulletin of the Sociedade Galega de Historia Natural and focused on the diet of the wild horse, each animal can eat more than 2,500 kilograms of gorse per year, thus playing a fundamental role in the restoration and conservation of protected ecosystems, such as peat bogs and heaths.
This cleaning work also plays, he adds, a decisive role in the prevention of forest fires, by eating that shrubby vegetation that makes up the biomass necessary for the spread of summer fires.
As the culmination of the vital importance of their role in the Galician mountains, the beasts become the first defense barrier against the attacks of the wolf.
It is not an exaggeration, since in the north of Galicia is the wolf community with the highest density on the planet, as confirmed by the work signed by Pedro Alonso, Miguel Hevia and David Martínez Lago, published in the scientific-technical journal ‘Recursos Naturales ‘ of the Institute of Agrarian Biodiversity and Rural Development of the University of Santiago de Compostela.
Along these lines, Laura Lagos, a doctor and forest engineer whose name appears linked to the Galician horse in numerous scientific citations, states in her doctoral thesis that wolf predation in the center of the Galician Ridge, a mountain range that divides the Community from the north to the south, it reaches 59% of the foals born, although farmers from Serra do Xistral, north of Lugo, would estimate higher figures.
PERFECT ALLY OF THE FARMER
For all these reasons, the Galician wild horse has become the perfect ally of the rancher and a key element for protected ecosystems, but its progressive population decline “inexorably leads it towards disappearance”, as Laura Lagos told EFE.
Although there is no real census of the animal since the one carried out in 1973 by the veterinarian Pedro Iglesia, when for his doctoral thesis he counted 22,000 specimens in the Galician mountains, UDC researchers, including Lagos, have set off the alarms under the sentence that “in the short term the ecosystem of free-ranging horses in Galicia will collapse” and they place the number of wild horse heads at less than 10,000 specimens, less than half that of the 70s.
To mitigate the gradual disappearance of the equine population, Lagos confirms to EFE that it is first necessary to learn about this peculiar management of the wild horse in Galicia, in a semi-wild state. That is why the measures promoted by the Administration to protect livestock from wolf attacks “are not compatible with the lifestyle of the wild horse.”
MORE STABLE AND RESILIENT GROUPS
For this reason, he continues, “the spaces where they graze freely should be respected, making the herds more stable and resilient groups.”
In reference to those mid-mountain places inhabited by equines, Lagos affirms that “we must monitor their ecosystem, stopping the expansion of eucalyptus and ensuring that new wind farms do not fragment their habitat” by establishing limitations on logging.
For the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) subsidies, ask that they be paid per horse and not just per extensive cow. In addition, he affirms that areas should be designated where it is not mandatory to microchip them, since the entry in 2012 of the decree of the Xunta that obliges the identification of these animals, considering them domestic, has caused a severe blow to the number of herds. .
In short, “as bestas” are more than just an animal from the Galician mountain. They are, all the experts agree, a cultural value to protect and a paradigm of the environmental benefit of extensive livestock.
Because, they conclude, saving the wild horse is taking care of the Galician forest. It’s keeping the summer fire at bay. It is to establish population in the rural territory. Even if it is in rough places and antonyms of human life.
Some communal mountains in Galicia are the last paradise of the wild horse. The aloitadores will battle until the last beast is left standing. It is an ancient bond.