State News

Drivers threaten OBX wild horses, caretakers say

Posted May 29, 2009 11:17 a.m. EDT
Updated June 2, 2009 8:33 p.m. EDT

— Sheriff's investigators and caretakers said the death of a wild horse struck by a vehicle represents a type of loss that is happening too often for the herd on the Outer Banks.

"We've had two horses hit by vehicles this year, and no one is being held accountable for it," said Karen McCalpin, executive director of the Corolla Wild Horse Fund.

That total includes "Spec," a horse that was hit by a vehicle on the beach late last Friday or early last Saturday.

"A person or persons hit him so hard they literally broke his leg in half," McCalpin said.

Marks in the sand showed that Spec managed to drag himself for about a mile trying to return to his herd. He was so badly injured that rescuers had to euthanize him.

McCalpin said she found ATV tracks around Spec's hoof prints and suspects that all-terrain vehicle riders chased the horse onto the beach. He was hit about 2 miles from his normal territory behind the dune line.

"I think it was on purpose," herd manager Wesley Stallings said.

Stallings said that Spec's death hit him hard – it was Stallings' first day on the job after moving from Wake Forest. Spec belonged to the first group of horses he saw, Stallings said.

Around 100 wild horses roam an isolated 11-mile northern stretch of the barrier island, near the Virginia border. The area has houses, fire departments and mail service but is unpaved and accessed only by off-road vehicles. The beach is used as a road in that area.

The horses are a major tourist attraction in the summer months, when the area's population swells by thousands. Some take organized tours to see the animals, but others rent off-road vehicles to go into the area by themselves.

Lt. Jason Banks, with the Currituck County Sheriff's Office, said that more than 300 ATV riders have permits for the area. The height at which Spec's leg was broken indicates that it could have been hit by the bumper or rack on nearly any off-road vehicle, he said.

The sheriff's office aims to find the reckless drivers who have hit and killed the three horses in recent months, Banks said.

"For Corolla, it's a high priority, especially because this horse suffered," he said.

The wild horses are descendants of Spanish mustangs abandoned or stranded on the Outer Banks by explorers around 500 years ago. In 2008, the American Livestock Breed Conservancy, which tracks endangered livestock and poultry breeds, rated the horses as threatened, one category above extinction.

Stallings said he aims to protect the horses from the dangers humans present.

"They were here first," he said.