TRINITY BAY, N.L. — Help is on the way for the beloved Newfoundland pony, once an essential part of the province's cultural life but now a critically endangered species.
The province announced Thursday it is providing land to the Newfoundland Pony Society to ensure it can continue its work to preserve these hardy animals. The society has been granted a 50-year agricultural lease for 10 hectares of Crown land near Hopeall in eastern Newfoundland.
The Newfoundland Pony is a unique breed that is native to Newfoundland and Labrador, the result of interbreeding between breeds imported from the British Isles by early settlers. The population has plummeted from 13,000 animals in the 1960s to fewer than 400 today.
"This hardy, good-tempered, loyal and hardworking pony interbred naturally on the common lands around our communities over the centuries to create a unique and special breed," said Jack Harris, president of the Newfoundland Pony Society.
"We are pleased to work with the provincial government to continue the preservation of the Newfoundland Pony and to ensure that it can thrive and prosper in the province where it evolved."
The group will use the land for pastures and breeding — and to create a Newfoundland Pony Heritage Park.
"The Newfoundland Pony is part of our shared heritage, and was essential to our ancestors' very existence," said provincial Fisheries Minister Gerry Byrne.
Fans of the pony say it is an ''all purpose'' work animal because it has strength, stamina, courage, intelligence, obedience and common sense.
They were plentiful until the advent of all-terrain vehicles.
Many were rounded up for one-way trips to meat plants, eventually winding up on dinner tables in Belgium and France.
A 1993 search by the Newfoundland Pony Society found only eight stallions on the island.
To protect the ponies, the Newfoundland government designated the breed as a heritage animal. It is also considered a critically endangered species by Rare Breeds Canada.
However, some ponies were sent off the island, with survivors living across Canada and in the U.S.
The pony society's website quotes Hollywood actress Elizabeth Taylor talking about her pony in Good Housekeeping magazine: "My happiest moments as a child were riding my Newfoundland pony, Betty, in the woods on 3,000 acres of my godfather’s estate near the village of Crambrook, in Kent."
In July, the pony society offered DNA testing for people who have Newfoundland ponies, or suspect they have one, to identify if they are purebred.
One of the oldest known living Newfoundland ponies — a dame named Mudder — was found emaciated and working at a children's riding stable in Quebec this year.
DNA testing confirmed she was Baytona Star #228, a registered Newfoundland pony whose whereabouts had been unknown for years. The pony was rescued and adopted by a family just outside Ottawa.
The Canadian Press