Wild horses maimed by isolation, corralled by controversy

Outer Banks wild horse

How could we let these beautiful symbols of our historic past can go from thousands to just 101? All so profiteers can rent out weekends to those who can afford $5000 to destroy what is left of the Outer Banks. And it does not help that the US Fish and Wildlife insist on calling the wild Colonial Spanish Mustangs of the Outer Banks “vermin”! ~ HfH

From: McClatchy DC
By: Sean Cockerham

Outer Banks wild horse

A wild horse on the beach near Corolla, N.C. (Sean Cockerham, McClatchy)

COROLLA, N.C. — Retired Washington, D.C., police Officer E.T. Smith patrolled the beach in his four-wheel-drive truck on a recent morning, keeping an eye out for wild mustangs and the drunks who like to harass them.

The horses have survived on this narrow barrier island for some 500 years, thought to be descendants of Colonial mounts that swam to shore when Spanish galleons ran aground on the shoals and sandbars of North Carolina’s Outer Banks. They’ve withstood centuries of hurricanes and nor’easters on this isolated spit of sand, marsh and woods, and became a huge draw for visitors.

But the horses now face serious threats, say those who manage the herd: a boom in McMansion-style vacation homes on this once-pristine stretch of coast and federal policies that are leaving the mustangs severely inbred and starting to suffer from genetic deformities.

“Mass interaction with people is a killer,” said Smith, after stopping to pick up a “Happy Birthday” balloon that a tourist had left behind on the beach.

The government has described the herd, some of the last remaining wild horses in the Eastern United States, as pests that compete for resources with federally protected birds. The battle over the herd on this island comes as horse advocates and the Interior Department clash nationwide. On the other side of the country, the government is rounding up wild horses in the West and confining them at the urging of cattle ranchers who say the animals deplete the range.

In North Carolina, the mustangs are left dodging tourists, developers and birth defects. Gus Cothran, an expert in equine genetics at Texas A&M University, published a DNA analysis in 2012 warning that the Corolla herd was becoming dangerously inbred.

Two of eight foals born last year had birth defects, according to the Corolla Wild Horse Fund, which manages the herd through agreement with the local and federal governments. One, with multiple fractures in its legs and fetlocks, was so severely crippled it had to be euthanized.

Two foals have been born this year in the herd of 101 horses. One had a genetic defect of severely contracted tendons that forced him to walk on the tips of his hoofs.

Medical treatment saved that horse _ which the herd managers named Vivo, a gangly dark colt with a star on his forehead whose name is Spanish for “alive” _ from being crippled and euthanized. Vivo, though, can no longer live free.

Once a wild horse is removed from the beach and exposed to domestic horses as part of veterinary treatment and recovery, there’s a risk of bringing back disease to the herd. So Vivo and his mother are confined to a facility on the mainland, near Grandy, N.C., poking their heads through a fence as visitors approach.

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AUTHOR: Amber Barnes
4 Comments
  • Janet Schultz

    Oh God, this breaks my heart to ur incredible creation of gentle kind most powerful of all the companions to man which You have created. Please forgive us. Give us strength to stand between these beautifuL spirit brothers and sisters and the evil speaking from the mouths of the selfish and ignorant. Help us show these low walking humans the light of compassion and respect for the role we are to live and walk. And God, please tell me why people are driving on the pristine beaches?

    August 12, 2014
  • Robynne Catheron

    I was praying for our OBX horses, that they would somehow avoid the fate of their western cousins. But it’s not to be, evidently. Greed has won yet again.

    August 13, 2014
  • Maggie Frazier

    What, pray tell, is the problem with preventing vehicles on the beach? The same goes with feeding these horses – especially after there were a couple incidents where horses got fed (or found) food that made them sick? I would think there would be some kind of zoning in this area preventing more development!

    August 13, 2014
  • Debbie Stoutamire

    “Mass interaction with people is a killer” – so so true. “Pests?” Human beings have caused 99% of the problems on this earth. I look forward to a Heaven where the animals rule over the people.

    August 14, 2014