Spain’s farmland returns to the wild

CAMPANARIOS DE AZABA, March 6, 2014 (AFP) – In an oak wood spanning the border of Spain and Portugal, an ancient sight unfolds: wild horses, not saddled or shoed, but roaming free as they did centuries ago. Farming has declined in Spain, leaving the countryside deserted, conservationists say. Now the wild things are coming back: wolves, vultures and rare herbivores.

Dozens of Spanish “Retuerta” horses have been released over the past two years here into the 500-hectare (1,235-acre) Campanarios de Azaba Reserve.

“It’s a wonderful horse that has been around since time immemorial,” despite coming close to extinction, said Carlos Sanchez, director of the conservation group running the site.

“We are recovering the most primitive breeds to try to help manage an ecosystem which has been abandoned due to the disappearance of humans.”

Nuzzling its mother’s velvety brown hide, a foal suckles then disappears among the trees with the grazing herd.

“We released these animals to live by themselves, to take care of themselves in their environment,” said conservationist Diego Benito, 35.

“We don’t feed them. We just watch them and monitor how they are doing in their groups, which are the domi