Friday, October 1, 2010

What Does the Herd Manager Do?

When we arrived as the first full-time staff in 2006, records on the wild horse herd were few and far between. Other than pet names given to a few, often seen horses, by tour guides and residents, there were no up-to-date or in-depth records on individual horses, harems, health issues, habitats, or herd numbers. We basically started from zero.

Actual day-to-day management of the Corolla herd did not begin until late 2006 with the hiring of a full-time herd manager and an executive director who both had extensive horse backgrounds.
• The first order of business was establishing a baseline study of the herd’s genetic health. This involved the collection of DNA samples via remotely delivered dart. (Both CWHF Herd Managers have undergone the required intensive training to qualify them to safely use the necessary equipment. Accurate records must be kept on all horses that are darted. Training was done on-site in Corolla and at Zoo Montana – all under the auspices of the Humane Society of the United States and Dr. Philip Sponenberg).
• Field work and herd monitoring occur almost daily, covering thousands of acres. A detailed record keeping system has been developed. Records are kept on individual horses as well as individual harems.
• Habitats have been defined, mapped, and correlated with harems and individuals.
• Vegetation within each habitat is being identified and studied.
• Water, soil and plant samples are collected and tested.
• Critical habitat is being defined for future conservation and pasture management.
• The annual aerial herd count can now be correlated with field data.
• Horses with life threatening injuries or illnesses are captured and treated using passive capture methods. Because they cannot be returned to the wild, they must be gentled and trained for life as a domestic horse. This requires several months of effort per horse.
• Thirty six wild horses have been domesticated and placed in loving adoptive homes since 2006.
• Injured horses are treated in their habitat whenever possible and appropriate.
• Rescuing very young foals requires bottle feeding every two hours. The herd manager sometimes sleeps in his truck between feedings in order to accomplish this.
• Staff are on call 24 hours a day, 365 days a year to respond to emergencies.
• Deceased horses are taken to Raleigh, NC (four and a half hour drive) for necropsy to determine the cause of death and for data collection.
• Barrier fences and gates must be constantly checked for breeches and repaired (including ocean cabling) and replaced.
• Thousands of visitors are educated about the wild horses by the herd manager either on the beach and behind the dunes, in the Wild Horse Museum, on a Trip of a Lifetime, or at an off-site event.

This is the “condensed for blog” version. Being the herd manager for CWHF also means long hours for low pay. It means being completely and totally committed to the well-being and long-term survival of the herd. It means your cell phone ringing at all hours of the day, night, and weekends. It means explaining to your spouse why you will be: late for dinner (again); have to change your vacation day; can’t go away for the weekend; etc. It means wearing snake boots and hoping that they are high enough and thick enough. It means caring so much that it makes your heart hurt. It is all of the above – and then some.

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