The Kundudo feral horses of Ethiopia

Rescuing the gametes of the critically Kundudo feral horses of Ethiopia: an endeavour of our Ethiopian based partner, Professor Lemma working together with IBREAM to make this happen

Prof. Alemayehu Lemma

The Namibian feral horses are the only horses that are historically known to exist in a feral state in Africa, south of the Sahara. However, a recent exploration by Kefena and colleagues (2012) reported the existence of the Kundudo feral horses in eastern Ethiopia. Very recently in 2010 Kundudo feral horses were located on Kundudo Mountain in the eastern part of Ethiopia during a field expedition on morphological diversities and ecozones of Ethiopian horse populations. The horses are said to acquire their name from the name of the mountain where they live as feral animal.

Their historical backgrounds are not clearly known because of absence of any written attribution on this horse population. However, the same research team reported suggestions from local elders as the animals had been roaming on Kundudo Mountain plateau for an unknown period of time with few anecdotic theories. They believed the Kundudo feral horses are the remnants of the historically known Ethiopian Muslim–Christian war that took place from 1528 to 1560 between Ahmed Gragn (leader of the Muslim army) and Atse Lebna Dengel (leader of Christian army). Kundudo Mountain is situated in a strategic place and local elders speculated that one of the army leaders had been using this mountain as a military strategy to control the progress of their enemy into the area. For the time being, however no other hard evidences are available to substantiate these speculations.

Kundudo feral horses (photo : Marco VIgano)

Since 2011, Kundudo feral horses are critically endangered. During a field survey organized by the Ethiopian Institute f Biodiversity (EIB) in August 2013 involving a group of experts from the National Artificial Insemination Center (NAIC), College of Veterinary Medicine and Agriculture (CVMA), Haramaya University and Gursum Department of Agriculture, only 11 Kundudo feral horses were observed near Kundudo Mountain. This number declined from their previous number of 18 in 2010 (Kefena et al, 2012). Some of these horses have successfully been captured by local inhabitants, and are under the process of domestication. Horses are generally uncommon in the area and, therefore, poor knowledge of horse management practices, high rate of inbreeding and extreme market demands for new born foals are major threatening factors to Kundudo feral horses. Based on the recommendation from the only study carried out on these horses, the EIB took the initiative of conserving these animals.

Currently, I am involved in semen banking activity for the remaining stallions. I work together with IBREAM’s Research Director, Monique Paris to make all this happen. She has orchestrated the access to freezing equipment and the right equine freezing reagents without which we will never be able to freeze high quality sperm of this critically endangered species. We are grateful for the support donated by IMV technology so that the semen bank for this species can now become a reality

Reference: Kefena E., Dessie, T., Han, J.L., Kurtu, M.Y., Rosenbom S., and Beja-Pereira, A. 2012. Morphological diversities and ecozones of Ethiopian horse populations. Animal Genetic Resources 50, 1–12.