Sunday, November 22, 2009

Sticking To The Science

On November 16th, the Currituck County Board of Commissioners took a very important step to protect the wild horses of Corolla. They amended the Unified Development Ordinance to prohibit ownership or the riding of domestic horses in the RO2 District (4 wheel drive beach). Why is this so important? Domestic horses, even those that are vaccinated, can carry diseases for which the wild horses have no immunity. Fact: The small herd size makes the wild horses even more vulnerable to being completely wiped out by a contagious disease. In addition, wild stallions will (and did) charge riders on domestic horses in an effort to protect their harem from horses that they perceived to be a threat. Two incidents necessitated medical treatment of riders. Anyone wishing to ride on the beach can still do so for at least 36 miles south of the wild horse area.

I read some comments from readers of the Virginian Pilot after an article about the change to the UDO appeared in today’s paper. The readers questioned the decision and thought that the Fund had gone too far - that domestic horses didn’t seem like much of a threat at all. Five well known experts that know far more than we do feel strongly that they are. Statements from the following were received and shared with the county planning staff:
• Dr. Rachel Cachero, DVM, Dominion Equine Clinic, Suffolk, VA
• Dr. Charles Issel, DVM, PhD, Chair of Equine Infectious Diseases, University of Kentucky Department of Veterinary Science
• Dr. Phillip Sponenberg, DVM. PhD, VMR Regional College of Veterinary Medicine, Virginia Tech
• Karen Sussman, President of the International Society for the Protection of Mustangs and Burros, Lantry, South Dakota
• Mike Yoder, Coordinator, Regional Equine Information Network System, Animal Science Extension, North Carolina State University.

A lifelong resident commented in the newspaper article that we were “taking away more rights” and that he had horses and other livestock “up there” years ago and there “weren’t any problems.” Twenty years ago, the wild horses had a range that was about three times the size of their current habitat. There were far fewer opportunities for interaction between domestic and wild horses because there were only a small number of wild horses on the north beach. There was also no paved road from Duck to Corolla years ago either and there were a handful of houses rather than the thousands that exist in 2009. Back then, no one was monitoring or managing the health of the wild horses on a daily basis like we are now. And now, the wild horses have no choice except to live between the south fence in Corolla and the north fence on the Virginia/North Carolina border.

Thankfully, we have science, scientists, and wild horse experts today who can provide us with accurate, in depth information and data. It is right and responsible to consider the best information available when making decisions that affect both the safety of the wild horses and the safety of the public. Wild horse management all over the country prohibits the presence of domestic horses where there are wild horses. We commend the Currituck Board of Commissioners for taking action to protect both the wild of horses of Corolla as well as our residents and visitors.

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