Wild Horses of the Danube Delta


Since the Pleistocene, wild horses have populated the Bugeac steppes and the areas where the Danube Delta was later formed. 

For a long time they were hunted by the first people for food and to be domesticated later. In the 19th century they were hunted by the locals because mares in heat strongly influenced the domestic horses used by people for various purposes. 

The forest tarpan 

The local name for a wild horse is TARPAN.

Tarpan = wild horse (The name came from an old Turkish dialect.) 

Two subspecies of the Tarpan (Equus ferus ferus) are known in the North and North-West of the Black Sea area: the steppe Tarpan (Equus ferus gmelini) and the forest Tarpan (Equus ferus sylvaticus). 

Today’s horses

Unfortunately, the last tarpans disappeared for more than 100 years. 

The horses we meet today in these places are re-wild horses, descendants of domestic horses, left behind by the populations that passed through here: Tatars, Cossacks, Turks. 

The Hohols, when they migrated to the Danube Delta, came with their herds of cattle (cows and buffaloes) and domesticated horses, later left to graze in the wild, alongside the cattle. 

More recently, when everyone can own agricultural machines and cars, the local people no longer needed horses for transport or agricultural work, so they let their horses return to nature. 

The herds that now graze freely in the Danube Delta, carry both the genes of the wild ancestors as well as the genes of the horses brought over time by all the peoples who passed through here. A mix from which, sometimes, ancient genes are still visible and we can see horses with broad hooves and with an appearance very close to tarpans, probably due to the continuity of the primitive breeds of horses domesticated here and later used by the locals till they were released into the wild.

Although the administration of the Letea forest claims that these horses are harmful to the forest, history shows us that tarpans have lived in good harmony with nature for more than 2 million years. The authorities estimate that there are approximately 4000 wild horses living in the Danube Delta, but the NGOs that defend the rights of the horses here have never managed to count that many, even using very modern methods, which the authorities have never used, being satisfied with estimates. 

The most famous place where you can see horses in the Danube Delta is Letea, but they can also be found in Sfântu Gheorghe, Caraorman, Perisor, Dranov, Dunavat or Gura Portitei. Now, although persecuted by human greed and the narrow-mindedness people, wild horses have become a symbol of the Danube Delta, being a tourist attraction. Thousands of tourists arrive here every year in the hope of meeting the free-grazing herds. 

To be or not to be … wild

This is a long discussion, if you consider American Mustangs, Australian Brumby or Camargue horses as WILD, then also the Danube Delta horses are WILD. They look like and beehives like wild animals, wild horses. 

If the discussion is valid from a scientific point of view, based on genetics, then they are feral horses, just like all the others previously mentioned.