Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Keeping the Wild Things Wild

Associated Press recently ran an article about the growing problem of wild ponies aggressively approaching visitors in Assateague National Park in Maryland. The title of the article was “Wild Moochers.” The photograph accompanying the article showed a charging wild pony biting a young woman’s hand. Why? Because people consistently ignore the park’s strict no feeding rule, feed horses from their vehicles, toss food, and feed them at their campsites, the wild ponies have come to expect food from humans. Park officials recently removed an aged stallion after he gashed a woman’s head. They said he had also harassed other visitors for food. As managers of the wild horses of Corolla, we not only find what is happening in Assateague extremely sad, we worry that it is a harbinger of the future for our horses if the behaviors of visitors to the Currituck Outer Banks do not change, and change quickly.
On June 22nd, a two week old foal, born perfectly healthy, died as a result of being fed. A resident observed people in a rental home feeding the mare and stallion water melon rind. When he approached them to tell them what they were doing was not only against the law – it could harm the horses, he was told that they “knew what they were doing.” By the time the foal showed symptoms, it was too late to save him. The necropsy showed an impaction in his colon. Feeding is fatal. Unfortunately, this feeding is not an isolated incident.
We have signs; several of the rental companies place information in their catalogs; we have a website; we have a facebook page; our staff and volunteers spend countless hours on the beach educating; we have hired additional part-time staff to patrol the beach and behind the dunes; we have a wild horse museum where our staff educates everyone who comes in the door; we distribute over 50,000 brochures annually as well as thousands of handouts. What we don’t have and desperately need – is information in EVERY rental house on the off road beach as well as Corolla. We have a poster that should be on every refrigerator. Sun Realty has committed to this as well as Kitty Dunes. Our visitors need to know that approaching or feeding wild horses can have far reaching consequences long after they have returned from their vacation, unpacked their bags, and downloaded their photos.
We want everyone who visits to have an opportunity to share in the unique experience of seeing a Colonial Spanish Mustang wild and free. If everyone would view the horses from a respectful distance and refrain from feeding them, horses and humans will continue to coexist safely. We have a Wild Horse Ordinance here to protect both people and horses and it must be strictly enforced. We all must work together to keep what is happening in Assateague from happening here. It is not the four-legged animals that are to blame.