Thursday, July 30, 2009

Managing for Extinction

The Corolla Wild Horse Fund is the only nongovernmental organization in the country responsible for the management of wild horses. Every other wild herd is managed by the federal government through the National Park Service, the Bureau of Land Management (BLM), or US Fish & Wildlife Service – all of which are components of the Department of the Interior. The overwhelming majority of the horses under their care are located in the western states. According to the Wild Horse Preservation Campaign, a national nonprofit dedicated to preserving what is left of America’s wild horses, flawed management practices, especially by the BLM, have resulted in more wild horses and burros now being held in government holding pens than exist in the wild. BLM has systematically favored subsidized livestock grazing on public lands over wild horses – even though the 1971 Wild Horse and Burro Act set aside these lands for wild horses and burros. Over 30,000 wild horses languish in steel pens. Many have died or been seriously injured, especially during helicopter roundups of “excess” horses.

Over the past 38 years, the intent of the act has been seriously eroded. Over 19 million acres that the Act granted to wild horses and burros have been taken away. Recently, BLM began asking Congress for permission to euthanize thousands of healthy horses and burros or sell to them for slaughter in Mexico and Canada.

The practice of chasing wild horses and burros with helicopters, often over exceedingly long distances, is nothing short of cruel. The photo above is from a “round-up” on US Fish & Wildlife’s Sheldon National Wildlife Refuge, Nevada. The primary concern in round-up operations continues to be efficiency, to the detriment of the horses’ welfare. Instead of helicopters, officials should be required to use bait trapping, a much safer and more humane method of capture. BLM has refused to use bait trapping in such instances as the 2007 Jackson Mountain round-up, when 185 horses died at the holding facility.

A few days ago, the House of Representatives passed HR1018, the ROAM Act. ROAM stands for Restoring Our American Mustangs Act. Introduced by U.S. Representatives Rahall (West VA.) and Grijalva (Arizona), the bill amends the 1971 Wild Free-Roaming Horse and Burro Act by adding important new protections and provisions, such as the banning of helicopter round-ups and the reclaiming of land. It is the first ray of hope for wild horses in the west in decades. North Carolina’s United States Congressman, Walter Jones, voted to support the bill. The Act must now pass the Senate.

For more information and how you can help, please go to

Other links: Warning: Telling but disturbing images of what happens during mass “gathers of excess horses.”

What does this all have to do with the wild horses of Corolla? Part of the range of the Corolla wild horses is the Currituck National Wildlife Refuge managed by USF&W, a bureau of the US Department of Interior. While I do not foresee our horses EVER being chased by helicopters or sold for slaughter, the policies and attitudes toward the presence of wild horses on public land are set at the top. Current policy does not allow for horses on the Currituck Wildlife Refuge and their current Comprehensive Conservation Plan defines the horses as “pest animals.”

We work cooperatively with the Refuge staff, helping to maintain an exclosure fence, and monitoring the presence of horses on the refuge. Annual aerial counts have shown that the maximum number of horses ever found on the refuge is 26 (2,500+ acres). About 73% of the herd has consistently been found on the privately owned land. It is our continued hope that as we gather more scientific data regarding the actual impact of the horses on federally owned land, that we will ultimately be permitted to increase the herd size to the recommended genetically and physically healthy range of 120 – 130. The wild horses on the Shackleford Bank portion of Cape Lookout National Seashore are managed at this level on 3,000 acres. The Corolla herd has access to a total of 7,544 but the current management plan still calls for a maximum herd size of 60.

We cannot and will not allow management for extinction here.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Happy Endings

If you’ve never been to Wild Horse Days, you’re missing out – especially this year. Our silent auction was bigger than ever, thanks to all the wonderful local merchants who supported our efforts to care for and protect our unique and historic herd of wild horses and through the efforts of volunteers who worked tirelessly to solicit auction items. Because of the generosity of Wrangler Farms in Grandy, we were able to offer mini riding lessons and “pony” rides on once wild Colonial Spanish Mustangs who live because they were rescued and rehabilitated by the Corolla Wild Horse Fund and its dedicated volunteers. Board member Steve Edwards and his students traveled nearly two hours to bring Corollas, BLM Mustangs, Chincoteagues and Shacklefords. We were able to triple the number of children’s activities through the efforts of our board president and volunteers, and we raised the most funds to support our efforts to protect and preserve the wild horses in the 6 year history of Wild Horse Days. However, the highlight of Wild Horse Days came on the last day, in the last hours and on the day after.

A horse tour guide called Herd Manager Wesley Stallings around 4 p.m. on July 9th to report seeing a group of mares and a stallion trying to drive a tiny foal from the harem, biting and kicking the baby. We still had many people on the grounds of the Wild Horse Museum and our truck’s tires were not aired down as we had been hauling trailers. (Traveling the 4X4 beach requires tire pressure of 16 – 20 pounds.) Board President Kimberlee Hoey jumped in her Jeep and headed up in advance. We communicated with Kimberlee by phone. The foal was trying to nurse but no mares would allow it. The temperature was in the 80’s and if dehydration didn’t kill the foal, a well placed kick from an adult horse would. Clearly, the foal’s mother had been stolen by another stallion and the foal was left behind. Wesley instructed Kimberlee to try and get the foal away from the other horses and restrain it if possible.

When we reached the location, Kimberlee was sitting in the sand, a safe distance from the harem across the street. The exhausted foal was in her arms. Wesley was on the phone with the vet at Dominion Equine Clinic. The vet recommended a baby bottle with water to try and hydrate the foal. Two men who were staying in a nearby house with their families offered a baby bottle with water. Wesley cradled the foal in his arms and climbed into the back seat of our truck. I drove and he was able to get the foal to drink a bit of water from the bottle and we raced to meet the vet at Wrangler Farms in Grandy.

After a thorough examination by the vet, the filly was determined to be 3 – 5 days old. Miraculously, she had no broken bones and only a small bite mark on her neck. To save her life, she would have to be bottle fed a commercial mare milk replacer every two hours, night and day for two weeks. Wesley has taken night shift, sleeping in his truck between feedings, and Wrangler staff has taken the day.

EVERYONE has fallen in love with “Kimberlee’s Sunrise” – or Sunny. She is thriving, kicking at the air, jumping, and bucking after each feeding. She is sleeping peacefully in her stall with a full tummy and many loving hands to scratch her neck.

The next day, we responded to a call at 5:45 p.m. regarding a wild mare with a beach chair around her neck and through her front legs. She was captured, the beach chair was cut away from around her neck, and she was released to rejoin her family group. It probably resulted from her reaching through the opening in the chair for food left behind by tourists who had been feeding her earlier.

Wild Horse Days is one of the many ways we generate the resources we need to do what is necessary to help horses like Sunny and the entangled wild mare. If you sponsored, attended, or volunteered in some capacity, you were an important part of saving their lives. If you are a member, a customer, or a supporter in another way, you can all be proud to be a part of these two happy endings. Thank you to each and every one of you who support the Corolla Wild Horse Fund. You ARE making a difference.