Photo in the News: Stranded Horses Rescued in the Netherlands

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November 6, 2006—A herd of about a hundred horses, stranded on a knoll for three days in a storm-flooded area of the Netherlands, waits for rescue on November 3.

By the end of the day a joint effort involving wranglers, firefighters, veterinarians, animal welfare officers, and the Dutch Army had managed to get the animals to safety.

People all across the Netherlands anxiously followed news of the stranded horses' fate after rising seawater from an October 31 storm flooded pastures in a wilderness area beyond the dikes of the town of Marrum, about 90 miles (145 kilometers) northeast of Amsterdam (map of the Netherlands).

Firefighters initially used small boats to ferry about 20 of the horses across the 2,000 feet (600 meters) separating the knoll from higher ground. The Dutch Army arrived with pontoon boats to support the effort, but falling water levels grounded their ships. The remaining horses were given fresh water and hay, but by November 2 drowning and exposure had killed 19 of the animals.

On November 3 an underwater path to safety was marked with stakes and lined with a chain of small boats crewed by firefighters. Pockets of water as deep as six feet (two meters), difficult-to-negotiate brackish water, and submerged barbed wire slowed progress.

Finally, four local women on horseback successfully herded all but one of the horses across the path, where the animals received some much-deserved care and rest before returning to pasture. The remaining horse was later escorted across by firefighters and is expected to make a full recovery.

"It worked, and it went off almost perfectly," Jacob Prins, a firefighter involved in the effort, told the Associated Press.

The police received a complaint from the Dutch Party for Animals against the horses' owner, who has been accused of neglect in the past. The incident prompted the Dutch Agriculture Ministry to launch an investigation to determine whether those responsible for the horses should be charged with neglect or abuse.

—Derek Lamberton

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