Three deaths this summer among North Carolina’s wild horses have shaken guardians of the 400-year-old feral herd.
“It’s natural to have deaths, but we generally see maybe three to four deaths in a year,” says herd manager Meg Puckett. “It’s all just happened in a short amount of time so it was hard on us.”
The causes have varied, leaving experts at a loss on what’s to blame.
One mare was struck and killed by a vehicle. Two others, including an orphaned foal, had to be euthanized because of critical health problems, says the nonprofit Corolla Wild Horse Fund.
Among them was one of the “wildest” of the banker stallions, a 20-plus-year-old horse named Trooper who “had absolutely no use for humans,” according to a post on the fund’s Facebook page.
Trooper had survived broken bones and a savage bite over the past two years but had to be euthanized June 8 after being kicked by another horse. The kick was strong enough to cause his lung to collapse, says Puckett.
“Trooper died on top of the dunes at dusk, looking out over the ocean,” Puckett said in a Facebook post. “He was rangy and salty and tough; a true, blue beach pony. Trooper taught me that some wild things will always be wild, even if you have the best intentions to help them.”
Historians trace the origin of Corolla wild herd to Spanish mustangs brought to the coast 400 years ago by settlers.
The horses have adapted in countless ways to the Outer Banks, including using the dry sand to whittle down their ever-growing hooves.
There are 90 to 100 horses in the Corolla herd, and they typically live into their 20s. Included in the herd is a mule that descends from farm stock that mixed into the herd decades ago when farmers worked the barrier islands.
Puckett says the bites and broken bones Trooper endured over the years are a reminder of the daily struggle the horses face to survive on the islands.
The Corolla Wild Horse Fund was created in 1989 by to raise awareness of growing threats to the herd, including island development and growing traffic. More then 20 members of the herd have been killed by vehicles, says the fund.
Experts have put protective measures in place, including fences, but the mare struck by a vehicle in June revealed the threat remains. It was the first such since 2012, according to The Outer Banks Voice.
Currituck County adopted laws to protect the horses — making it illegal to intentionally be within 50 feet of them — but they are not protected by any state or federal laws, says the wild horse fund.