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Skyros ponies in their natural habitat. The Skyros Pony

The Skyrian pony is an unique breed of pony only existing here in Greece and is at the moment in great danger as you will understand when you read on. We have started a refuge here on the Island of Corfu and are trying to save the race.

Skyrian ponies are on the verge of extinction by LAW!

Skyrian ponies may be the ones depicted on the Parthenon frieze, not carved in small proportion to emphasize the stature of the riders, but naturally diminutive. They are certainly the ponies that facilitated agriculture on the Island of Skyros for centuries. Skyros, the largest and most remote of the Sporades islands, has two faces - a fertile a fertile north where agriculture dominates, and a mountainous and arid southern section which rises to 792 metres.

No-one knows how long the ponies have lived on this island, and no records exist to pinpoint the start of there cooperation with man. During the winter, when food and water are plentiful, the ponies live wild on the southern mountain. But when the summer comes, and nourishment is scarce, they migrate north in search of food and water and in return let themselves to be approached by farmers for threshing and other agricultural work.

 However this symbiosis came under threat in the mid 1960s, when modern threshing equipment was introduced and ponies were gradually replaced by four - wheel drive vehicles and combine harvesters. At the same time European Union grants encouraged farmers to keep sheep and goats, resulting in overgrazing of the mountain grounds. Now redundant, having lost their habitat and function, the Skyrian ponies are on the verge of extinction.
 A Sykrian pony

Among those who are trying to help are Sylvia Dimitriadis Steen, living on the Silva Estate on Corfu and Alec Copland, formally lecturer in Veterinary Anatomy in the Veterinary Faculty of Edinburgh University of Scotland. Alec has worked all his life with ponies, but it wasn't until 1994 that he heard of the Skyrian ponies and went to examine the situation. "my immediate impression of the Skyrian ponies , was that in conformation, action and temperament, they resemble miniaturized England’s Exmoor ponies of ten and a half hands high (105 cm). The bay coloured animals present a mealy muzzle, circle around the eye, the prominent ‘toad’ eye, low set tail and hard black feet. Subsequent examination of blood samples indicated that like the Exmoor’s, they represent an example of mountainous ponies of the Speed - Ebhart type 1, which evolved in America about a million years ago and migrated by way of Alaska and along the Asiatic mountain chain, arriving in south - eastern Europe during the early Holocene period.

The law in Skyros does not permit the Skyrian ponies to leave the island and there is great concern about their future. A census last year revealed 140 ponies left on Skyros, but not all are pure - bred!!! If you have an outbreak of African horse sickness or something similar on the island of Skyros, the entire population will be wiped out. Hopefully this will not happen, but still there is great danger that the breed will slowly but surely cease to exist due to the same law that is mentioned above, why?, because it is not forbidden by law to export mules!!! so in effect the locals are mating pure - bred ponies with donkeys. This is the major reason for the Silva project.

A Skyrian pony.  We need to create refugees of genetic material outside the island of Skyros, not only in Greece but also abroad, in order to secure the survival of this rare breed.

The information in this section was provided by the Silva Project, Corfu.
If you would like more information on the Skyros pony or if you can help in any way please visit the Silva Project site.
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Updated: October 2005.