Wild horses may save threatened butterflies One of the 14 wild mares from Britains Exmoor National Park rests in an enclosure near the village of Milovice, Czech Republic (AP photos)
Wild horses may save threatened butterflies
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Twenty-five years ago, it was a military zone where occupying Soviet troops held exercises. Today it's a sanctuary inhabited by wild animals that scientists hope will improve biodiversity among local plants as well as save endangered species.

A herd of 14 wild mares from Britain's Exmoor National Park were moved in January to the former Milovice military base. It's 22 miles northeast of Prague, the capital of the Czech Republic.

After an acclimatization period at a small enclosure, the horses were released to a 99-acre area. Their task is to stop the spread of aggressive and evasive grasses. That includes bushgrass that is a delicacy for them. The invasive plants began to grow after Soviet troops withdrew in 1991. The invasive plants threaten the area's original plants and animals. A stallion will join the mares in April.

Dalibor Dostal is the director of European Wildlife, the organization behind the project. He said scientists decided that using big-hoofed animals such as wild horses, which "maintained the steppe character of nature across Europe for thousands of years," could solve the invasive plant problem in the most effective way. That should also help some 30 threatened species in the area. The species include the Mountain Alcon Blue butterfly and the Star Gentian flowering plant.

"Alternatives to wild animals are very expensive. And their impact on the environment is not very good," Dostal said.

Domestic animals such as sheep were ruled out. They would feed on the endangered plants and mechanical cutting costs too much.

"(The horses) will move freely on the pastures the whole year. If they have a source of water and enough space, they don't need any care. They are able to care for themselves," Dostal said.

Environmentalists are already planning to expand the territory and use other big-hoofed animals such as European bison.

The Soviet army that stayed after the 1968 Soviet-led invasion of then-Czechoslovakia was the last armed force in the area. Dostal said the soldiers' activities actually simulated the impact of hoofed animals, a reason why "military zones in the Czech Republic are the places with the best biodiversity."

Critical thinking challenge: How did the soldiers' activities simulate the impact of hoofed animals?

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COMMENTS (2)
  • Eugene0808-YYCA
    9/22/2015 - 12:26 a.m.

    I think the mares are amazing because they help the ecosystem at the military zone where they live in. They eat invasive grass that invade the native plants there. By eating the grass, the mares save flowers in which butterflies pollinate.
    Critical thinking challenge: How did the soldiers' activities simulate the impact of hoofed animals?
    Answer: The soldiers' activities simulated the impact of hoofed animals by invasive grass growing after Soviet soldiers left the area in 1991.

  • Steve0620-yyca
    2/01/2016 - 10:16 p.m.

    The Soviet used to have a military zone where they held exercises. That was twenty-five years ago. Now it's a place where wild animals live. Scientists hope that the animals will improve diversity among animals and help endangered species to increase their population. Scientists used horses to help stop the spread of invasive plants. The scientists also hope to save the endangered species of plants and animals. I think that the scientists are doing a good job on helping the animals and plant populations to grow and prosper.

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