Conservation breeding efforts have helped increase the population of the indigenous Chamurthi horse breed of Himachal Pradesh to around 4,000, according to the state animal husbandry department.
The Chamurthi or Spiti horse is one of the six recognised indigenous breeds of horses or ponies in the country.
The breed faced the danger of extinction when the animal husbandry department set up a breeding and conservation farm at Lari in Spiti in 2002. The breed population statistics were not known at that time, but the 2012 livestock census estimated a population of 1,500 Chamurthi horses in the country.
Currently, the population has increased to around 4,000 in Himachal alone, according to official estimates.
Chamurthi horses are also reared in Uttarakhand, Ladakh and Tibet, but their “true breeding tract” is confined to 15 villages in Pin valley of Spiti, according to a veterinary official. Small in height, they are known for their endurance in the tough mountainous terrain, and are able to undertake long journeys at high altitudes. They are also able to walk on ice and survive in extreme cold temperatures, and are mainly used as pack animals.
Chamurthi horses saw a rapid decline in population in recent decades due to the expanding road network in the Himalayas which replaced the use of these horses with motorised vehicles.
The breeding farm at Lari currently has around 67 horses, where a majority of yearlings are sold through auction to local residents. Dr Dakpa Tenzin, incharge of the farm, said that many horses are sold at the annual Lavi fair in Rampur.
“People from Kinnaur, Uttarakhand and some other areas come to buy them in order to use them as pack animals in remote areas and high altitudes. However, in the last three-four years, their demand has decreased. This is probably because more and more people now prefer to use vehicles instead of horses,” he said.
Tenzin added that one peculiar characteristic of Spiti horses is that their colour changes from dark to light as they grow old. “According to a legend among the people of Spiti and Kinnaur, this breed of horse is a descendent of a wild horse which used to inhabit the alpine region of Spiti, Ladakh and Tibet,” another official said.
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