Horse Health

NC’s wild horses maimed by isolation, corralled by controversy

By Sean Cockerham as published at

Only two foals have been born this year in the herd of 101 horses.

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

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

— 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.

Nuisance or icon?

“We have one of the highest levels of inbreeding and lowest levels of genetic diversity of any wild herd anywhere. We are down to one maternal line, which is very dangerous,” said Karen McCalpin, the executive director of the Corolla Wild Horse Fund.

Rep. Walter Jones, R-N.C., has taken up the cause. The U.S. House of Representatives unanimously passed his bill in 2012 and 2013 to allow the herd to grow to 130 horses and to let the Corolla Wild Horse Fund bring a few horses from the Shackleford Banks, on another island at the far southern tip of the Outer Banks, in order to infuse some fresh genes into the herd.

But the bill has been opposed by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and it goes nowhere in the Senate.

The issue is that at least some horses cross into the island’s Currituck National Wildlife Refuge, although the most sensitive parts are fenced off. Flocks of endangered migratory waterfowl and nesting sea turtles use the refuge, and the government calls the horses a “nuisance.”

The Fish and Wildlife Service “considers the horses to be non-native, feral animals and not a natural component of the barrier island ecosystem,” the Currituck National Wildlife Refuge website reads. “These animals compete with native wildlife species for food and fresh water. Their activities degrade and destroy habitat, which negatively impacts native species.”

Pressure is growing for a solution, and the Southeast regional refuge manager for the Fish and Wildlife Service, David Viker, struck a conciliatory tone in a recent interview. Viker said the agency was going to work with equine geneticist Cothran on a new study to look at the potential for bringing fresh genes into the Corolla herd and how many horses the habitat could support.

He said the Fish and Wildlife Service hadn’t wanted to make horses a focus of the refuge at the expense of caring for other animals. But the agency will look for answers because the Corolla herd is “such an important icon in that part of the world,” he said…(CONTINUED)

Click (HERE) to read the rest of the story and to comment at the NewsObserver

10 replies »

  1. It sure does, horsedrag. Good point. Also, notice how man is so immune in this statement –

    “These ‘animals’ compete with native wildlife species for food and fresh water. Their activities degrade and destroy habitat, which negatively impacts native species.”

    Change animals to man, we have no problem with doing this ourselves to wildlife.

    I guess those McMansions haven’t had any impact at all.


    • What a crock! This is one of the many instances where I’ve sent emails to the powers that be. What a neat animal – and these dipwads don’t have a clue! I wonder if this “wildlife manager” is yet another that sits behind a desk in DC.


  2. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, being that they are now armed, SHOULD be on site to protect those Wild Horses.
    They can deal with people who don’t respect or obey the law. THAT IS THEIR JOB and they are paid very well to do it.

    Military-style units from government agencies are wreaking havoc on non-violent citizens.
    By John Fund

    Dozens of federal agencies now have Special Weapons and Tactics (SWAT) teams to further an expanding definition of their missions. It’s not controversial that the Secret Service and the Bureau of Prisons have them. But what about the Department of Agriculture, the Railroad Retirement Board, the Tennessee Valley Authority, the Office of Personnel Management, the Consumer Product Safety Commission, and the
    All of these have their own SWAT units and are part of a worrying trend towards the militarization of federal agencies — not to mention local police forces.

    Fish and Wildlife Service salary


  3. be fore warned any more is a luxary, i think that many things since june of last year have blindsided a whole lot of us and some of the things are really going to get nasty ugly . example: my friend has planned a crime watch for 2 wk.s , finally had the meeting last night ,had a good turn out for more patrolin the area. had 4 officers show up and she said that one of them get up an said it was the victems own fault that they were robbed because they didn’t have the police come and etch no.’s in to chair andother porch items an file them with the police so items could be returned once recovered. and he was like accusing the residents was and just really nasty about it.. major shift in the way things are done now . just a total disregard for everything alive. i really hate this regime . and our congress don;t care at all . what is our next step ,i’m ready!!


    • Cindy – don’t know were you live -I live in the Denver area we do the same thing- nothing is safe – we just don’t worry about police (they are worthless), nothing is safe, even in locked yards – the gentleman in the article referred to people –as the don’t tread on me–bunch, we call them–the rules don’t apply to us bunch–they have no respect for other people’s private property, they take anything and vandilize the rest – but we a tribute it to everyone coming hear for pot and our state is a dumping ground for illegals. AND THEY THINK EVERYTHING IS FREE IN AMERICA literally.
      As you say we are rready—so ready.

      Liked by 1 person

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