KINGSTON, Jamaica (AP) — The last of the wild horses on Great Abaco island in the Bahamas has died, prompting caretakers to collect tissue for possible cloning and hopefully bring back a viable population.
Milanne Rehor, project director for the Wild Horses of Abaco Preservation Society, said Tuesday that a U.S. veterinarian removed tissue from the dead mare and the material has just been shipped to an animal cloning technology company in Austin, Texas.
"We are sad at the loss. But we are also optimistic because we do have a crack at bringing the herd back," said Rehor, a 71-year-old New York native who has spent over two decades trying to preserve the wild horses in the northern Bahamas.
Some 60 years ago, as many as 200 wild horses grazed and trotted freely through the scrubland and forests of Great Abaco, which was once logged for its pine trees.
The horses were imported from Cuba in the late 1800s by a logging company. When the company switched to tractors for pulling logs in the 1940s, the animals were set free and went feral.
The wild horses flourished for a time, then a young child died while trying to ride one of the horses after it had been tamed and townspeople killed all but three of the herd in the early 1960s, according to Rehor's organization.
The herd rebounded to about 35 animals by the mid-1990s with the help of Rehor and other enthusiasts who secured a preserve for the horses in Abaco's Treasure Cay. But the remaining horses were sickened by poisonous plants, pesticides and herbicides and were unable to reproduce. The last one, a roughly 20-year-old mare called Nunki, died in recent days.
Rehor, who lives on a boat moored in Abaco, said she lost a "wonderful companion." She hopes Nunki's cells can be reproduced and one day a foal can be bred with DNA from a living stallion.
Ernest Cothran, a clinical professor at Texas A&M University's Department of Veterinary Medicine and Biomedical Sciences who has studied Abaco's wild horses, said he would be surprised if the cloning plan succeeds. "I would not say it is impossible, however," he said.
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