From the Horse's Mouth

Wild horses, an unhealthy river, and Nazis—sounds like the makings of one hell of an Indiana Jones movie (after all, every great Jones flick involves Nazis).

But this is no fictional movie plot. In fact, Nazi-bred wild horses—known as Koniks—may be the saviors of England’s Stour River.

The horses, which thrive in wetland environments, have recently  been released to graze in marshes along the banks of the Stour River, a waterway that’s endured years of environmental degradation. The positive result of all the munching is thatit revitalizes ailing reed beds, which in turn brings wildlife back to the marshes.

Koniks were originally bred in Poland from Tarpan horses, which became extinct at the turn of the 20th century. The Canterbury city council, in partnership with the  Wildwood Trust, a conservation-minded animal park, brought the horses to Britain.

From a Reuters article:

For Peter Smith, the Wildwood Trust’s chief executive, the sturdy and self-reliant Konik is the perfect tool for re-creating a nature reserve on the banks of the River Stour.


“It is wonderful use of our land which could be teeming with wildlife again. We have already seen egrets back nesting on the site,” he told Reuters.

Despite their do-gooder status for helping clean up the waterway, Koniks have a sordid history (in case you couldn’t guess, here’s where the Nazis come in).

After the Nazi invasion of Poland in World War Two, whole herds were stolen and transported back to Germany where geneticists sought to recreate the pure Aryan wild horse.


When the Russians invaded Germany in the final days of the war, the horses were eaten by the starving people of Munich and Berlin.

Luckily for the River Stour, they didn’t eat them all. (This certainly answers our questions about the origins of the expression “So hungry I could eat a horse.”) Herds returned to Poland’s national parks and were eventually transported to parks across Europe.

Despite their Third Reich connections (which of course, is not the horses’ fault), we think the Koniks are pretty cool, ranking among such revered equines as Black Beauty, Seabiscuit, and even Mr. Ed.


And Herdy Oelke, a modern day German, is trying to bring back the Tarpan's OTHER closest surviving relative, the Portuguese Sorraia.

I think you mean, Hardy Oelke.

And wasn't the Sorraia proven to actually be an Iberian subpopulation of the Tarpan, by the Equine Genome Project?

The North American Tarpan is the only TRUE surviving descendant of the Tarpan!!!

The Konik is a north European mix that may contain "some" Tarpan genes.
The North American Tarpan is, for the most part, a pony mix, with a dash of Przewalski, that was back-bred by the Heins brothers of Germany, to "look" like a Tarpan.
For all that is really known of the extinct Tarpan's true genome, the Sorraia may actually be closer(?). Their site goes very deeply into the genetics, but I think it would take a professional zoologist to understand it.