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Park boon for Manipur pony
- Polo association to build heritage hub to try and save dying species

Imphal, Dec. 28: It is not all over yet for the Manipur pony, a rare species facing threats of extinction. The Manipur Horse Riding and Polo Association’s heritage park is all set to save the species and project them as a major tourist attraction.

Once owned by every household in Manipur, today their number is estimated to be below 1,000. Their hope is now the heritage park of the polo association.

“We have been working on the project for six years now. The government has provided 30 out of the 46 acres we sought at Lamphel of Imphal West. The Centre has assured us that it would provide the rest of the 16 acres,” the president of the association, S. Budhachandra Singh, said.

Important members of the association today gathered at the pony-breeding farm at the foothills of Cheiraoching in Imphal West. The members include former ministers, IAS and IPS officers, university lecturers and other high-ranking officials. Budhachandra himself is food and civil supplies commissioner.

“We will approach both the Centre and international agencies for funds. The Union home ministry recently gave us the clearance for the foreign fund hunt,” the president said.

With Rs 75 lakh provided by the Centre, the breeding project was launched in 2005 with 44 ponies. Now the number at the farm has gone up to 76. The association is currently running the farm with a yearly grant of Rs 5 lakh from the state government.

The new heritage park will have a grazing ground, international-standard polo ground, a racecourse and a park for visitors. The main idea is to not only preserve the pony, but also to attract tourists.

One of the main reasons for the dwindling number of the Manipur pony is smuggling. Myanmar has a great demand for the Manipuri pony. Porters, transporters and owners are either selling them off to smugglers or thieves are stealing them.

As owning a pony becomes increasingly expensive, owners are sending ponies out of home stables for daily grazing. At any given day a visitor can see 10 to 15 ponies roaming in Imphal city.

This park will also provide stables for private owners. The association did not give any time frame for completion of the “dream project” but it is planning to seek world heritage site tag for the park after it is completed.

“We do not foresee any problem in getting the heritage tag for the Manipuri pony,” deputy inspector-general of police, M. Shanti Singh, who is also a member of the association, said.

Manipuris introduced polo in the 7th century and Manipuri ponies are the original polo ponies. The British became aware of the game in the 19th century, and eventually took it to Europe and America, where it thrived.

The ponies were used as mounts for the Manipur cavalry, which was respected and feared throughout upper Burma during the 17th century. The breed was used in the army throughout World War II, as transport animals to take the British army into Burma in 1945.

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