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Rare, Miniature Skyros Ponies From Greek Mythology are Dying Out

Sep 29, 2016 09:45 AM EDT

The legendary Skyros ponies, who have been running wild in Skyros, Greece for 2,000 years and was even believed to have pulled Achilles' chariot, is nearing extinction. The rare creature's numbers have dwindled to 200 remaining individuals left on the planet.

According to a report from National Geographic, some of the reasons for the dying population of the Skyros pony include the overgrazing of sheep, the loss of their natural habitat and interbreeding with donkeys. Now, there are only 200 roaming the planet, most of which are in Greece and roughly 40 under the Skyros Island Horse Trust.

This trust works to raise awareness about this rare breed of horse, monitors its population, and houses sick, injured or aging individuals. Their multifaceted approach includes tracking the bloodlines to ensure diversity in the new generation and finding homes for the horses.

The challenges are daunting in their conservation work though, chief of which is funding. Amanda Simpson, who runs the Skyros Island Horse Trust, described the work as "very difficult within Greece's economic situation."

"Even though it's a rare breed and there's status, there [are] no kinds of funding in terms of government resources," she added.

John Halley, associate professor of conservation at the University of Ioannina in Greece, chimed in saying that finesse is needed to get conservation issues noticed in Mediterranean countries.

"Some of the politicians are actually conservation biologists," Halley said. "But like any other country, there are so many other problems that need attention, that maybe the case of the Skyros pony is not being heard."

There are many reasons to save the Skyros pony from extinction, one of which is its place in history and Greek mythology. Not only is this tiny horse believed to have carried Achilles, they are also featured in a frieze in the Parthenon.

"These are sort of living museums," Simpson pointed out. "You actually have a living breathing piece of history. It would seem criminal to see them go into extinction."

Its size and mild temperament also make the ideal animal for therapy and introducing small children to horseback riding.

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