Monday, October 10, 2011

More Currituck Horse in Carova a Mystery

At last Aerial count of the herd, the herd numbers jumped up to a level even the Corolla Wild Horse Fund cannot explain. See the detailed article below.

Corolla's wild herd surge baffles advocates

By Cindy Beamon

The Daily Advance

Thursday, October 6, 2011

COROLLA — Too many wild horses on the Currituck Outer Banks has the non-profit that protects them baffled.

An aerial count of the herd a few weeks ago revealed 23 more horses in the Carova area 
than last year.

That’s not natural, says Karen McCalpin, executive director for the Corolla Wild Horse Fund.

Births cannot account for the rapid rise in horse numbers in one location. In fact, the Wild Horse Fund has been giving the mares contraceptives to keep the herd’s number down. So that many births in one year would be “physically impossible,” McCalpin said.

The sudden population change in the northern section of beaches has McCalpin perplexed.

Every year, for the past five years, the aerial count has matched numbers kept by herd manager Wesley Stallings. The herd count on average has numbered 103.

This year was different. By helicopter, 144 horses were spotted. Stallings, who spends 30 hours a week tracking the herd and documenting their behavior, counted 115 last year.

The number is not consistent

with previous years, Stallings said. Either all the previous counts were wrong or something has happened. Stallings said his job is to keep objective data and he didn’t want to speculate about the sudden anomaly.

“These horses came from somewhere but we’re not sure where,” McCalpin said.

One possibility may be the horses migrated from up north. The horses may have been living in the 21,000-acre False Cape State Park in Virginia Beach, Va., and crossed over into new territory, she said.

Besides that theory, the extra horses remain a mystery.

The big jump “doesn’t make any sense” after five years of consistent data, McCalpin said.

Since the aerial count, Stallings has noticed a few of the “strangers” in Carova. The horses have some of the same features as the Spanish mustangs he’s been following for years, he said.

Their colors — chestnut, brown, black — match the existing herd, but from a distance they appear to look different, McCalpin said.

In the next couple weeks, Stallings will be taking photographs and getting close enough to examine the newcomers. Without genetics testing it may be impossible to know for sure if they are the same breed, he said.

Ironically, the extra horses may require the Wild Horse Fund to thin out the herd it has been fighting to enlarge.

This week, the Corolla Wild Horses Protection Act won approval of the House Natural Resources Committee. The bill next goes to the floor of Congress for further consideration.

McCalpin said committee approval of HR-306 is a big victory for supporters of Corolla Wild Horses.

“There’s still a long road to go (before the bill is approved by the full Congress) but that was a huge hurdle,” she said.

The legislation would allow the herd size previously limited to 60 horses to slightly more than double. The bill, sponsored by U.S. Rep. Walter Jones, R-N.C., provides for a new management plan for expanding the gene pool of the herd. The horses are too closely related would be destined for genetic collapse without the plan, said McCalpin.

She said the Wild Horse Fund will comply with the new legislation and trim back the herd to the 120-130 as required.

A dozen or more of the most human-friendly horses may be selected over time for saddle-training and become part of an adoption program that stretches from Texas to Maine, McCalpin said. Saddle-training for the naturally intelligent, mild-mannered breed should not be difficult, she said.