Grazers play a key role in the natural dynamic of the Oostvaardersplassen. Alongside the greylag geese, three large grazers play a role: red deer, Heck cattle and konik horses. Their size, visibility and recognisability make them conspicuous. Watching wild herds move or stallions fight is a magnificent sight. As is seeing animals born in the wild. Though the animals also attract attention when things do not go well for them. When they lose weight in the winter or die. It is therefore no surprise that precisely their presence in the area has given rise to debate.
Approximately 3,800 large grazers live in the drier areas of the preserve. These species originally inhabited our part of Europe. The Heck cattle and the konik horses have strong ties to their wild ancestors and have little to do with modern day cows and horses. The animals living in the reserve were born there, in the wild. This makes them wild animals that are part of nature.
In 2007, the The Dutch Animal Welfare Association provided more clarity in the debate on a number of legal aspects. During the trial the organisation posited that the animals were ‘held’ and were not cared for properly. However, the courts (even on appeal) determined that all the animals in the area are ‘wild animals’ which are part of the ecosystem. The courts moreover determined that the animals receive the necessary care in accordance with the recommendations in the International Committee on the Management of large herbivores in the Oostvaardersplassen’s report. findings court 's-Gravenhage (in Dutch)
Incidentally, the ancestors of the animals currently inhabiting the area were brought there by humans because no geographical link existed between the Flevopolder and their original habitats. It was decided to help the animals across that geographic threshold because they could play a key role in nature at the Oostvaardersplassen.