Azerbaijan fights to protect national animal from extinction

Story highlights

  • The Karabakh horse is Azerbaijan's national animal
  • There are less than 1,000 Karabakh bred horses left in the world
  • The government is running a horse breeding programs to save the animal from extinction

(CNN)Tough, strong and noble; these are the sorts of qualities one would expect from a national symbol.

The fabled Karabakh horse is a rare and beautiful animal that is of great importance to Azerbaijanis.
    But the country's national animal that can be found everywhere from its stories to its postage stamps is faced with extinction.
      In the thickly forested foothills of Sheki, a small city 300km (187 miles) from the capital Baku, is one of world's largest and purest Karabakh herds.
      Their owner, Yashar Guluzade, has been restoring the breed for over a decade in this unspoilt mountainous region.
      He says that conflict and a difficult economic situation have led to their decline.
      "At the beginning of the Armenian-Azerbaijani conflict the horses were continually transferred from one place to another and this was one of the reasons for the sharp reduction of stock as the movement of pregnant mares led to miscarriages," he explained.
      Guluzade says that the places the horses were taken did not have the correct conditions and pastures to support them and it was as if the country had forgotten about them.
      The government has now stepped in to try and protect the breed.
      Azerbaijan's Ministry of Agriculture has drawn up a number of horse breeding programs and the law states the animal cannot be exported for sale.
      The ministry says it may consider selling the horses in the future to raise money for their upkeep but for now the focus is on breeding and protection. Khandan Rajabli, the managing director of the ministry's breeding division told CNN that these programs include improving veterinary services, training and scientific studies on the horses' DNA.
      "Instituting a system of identification like passports to track the breed has been established" he said.
      Rajabli says that a German company is also assisting with gene research and establishing the horses genetic profiling so a system can be developed to confirm the breed in future.
      German horse breeder, Verena Scholian, is one of the experts that have been working with the Azerbaijani government, advising them on breeding programs and technical equipment.
      Scholian, who has spent decades researching the Karabakh's blood-line, says it's easy to see the horses appeal.
      "I love handling them; they are calm, friendly and very sure footed," she said.
      Estimates on the number of Karabakh horses vary. According to the Karabakh Foundation, there are less than 1,000, but Scholian believes there could be less than 10 mares that are one-half pure bred.
      The mountain-steppe racing horse is named after the geographical region where it was originally developed. The Karabakh horse is the result of cross-breeding and stands out with what's been described as its "golden glow."
      The horses are also known