London, Mar 14 : They might have been a symbol of Britishness for centuries, but now the British shire horse is facing extinction, claim experts.
Their numbers have dwindled to just 3,500, from 6,000 just 10 years ago, and unless a proper breeding programme is introduced, the breed could die out within a decade.
The numbers of female shire horses currently being bred are not high enough to sustain the breed
"The extinction of British shire horses is a distinct possibility - we have to do something now rather than wait until it is too late, which could be within 10 years," the Telegraph quoted Ken Young, from the Shire Horse Society, as saying.
Shire horses were brought to Britain in 1066 by William the Conqueror, and were used in medieval warfare as living armored tanks until new weapons made them obsolete.
During the industrial revolution they were relied upon to transport goods to the railways. Since then they have been used in farm work, pulling carts for deliveries and rubbish collection.
"Another breed of horse, the Suffolk Punch, suffers from the same problem. It is all but extinct and if we don't do something about the shire horse, that is where we are going.
"People are even discussing the possibility of a frozen sperm bank for shire horses, to try to keep the breed going," he added.