Some well-meaning tourists took a newborn wild horse with them when they left one of North Carolina’s barrier islands in a boat recently.
The problem is that, unfortunately, the newborn foal must now be raised as a domesticated horse because it is virtually impossible to reunite it with its mother and herd.
How The Event Took Place
Once there, the group encountered a newborn foal who followed the group for approximately 2 hours, according to the National Park Service. The group reported that they didn’t see any other horses in the area.
“When the visitors moved to their boat to leave the island, the foal tried to follow them,” the National Park Service reports. “With the best of intentions, thinking that the foal would drown, they lifted the foal into the boat and departed, thereby removing the horse from its natural habitat, its mother, and the herd.”
Why The Foal Was Alone And Followed The Group
When wild horses are disturbed, a stallion will try to protect his group of mares by driving them away from an area where a foal may be sleeping. To protect the mare, the stallion will then prevent her from returning to the area, the National Park Service explains. If this happens, the foal may lose contact with the rest of the harem.
“For a short period early in a foal’s life, it instinctively follows its dam [mother] without necessarily knowing which creature she is,” Dr. Sue Stuska, the park’s wildlife biologist explains. “When separated, the foal will follow other horses or even people.”
It is suspected that this may indeed be what happened with the tourists.
Once a foal has been removed from the seashore, it’s unlikely that rangers can reunite it with its dam. Although the visitors meant well, rather than living as a wild stallion, the foal will now live as a domesticated animal.
The foal is currently in the care of the Foundation for Shackleford Horses, a non-profit that advocates for the wild horses living within Cape Lookout National Seashore.
As for the visitors, the National Park Service reports that they have been cited for removing the horse from Shackleford Banks. If convicted, the visitors, who have not been named, could face up to 6 months in jail and/or be fined $5,000, the National Park Service reports, according to The News & Observer.
However, the National Park Service does note that the park is working with this group “to assist with future educational opportunities and community service projects that will benefit Shackleford Banks, and the horses protected there.”
Know Before You Go
If you’re planning a trip to North Carolina’s Outer Banks this spring, keep in mind that March is the beginning of foaling season on Shackleford Banks, where wildlife is federally protected.
Visitors who see strange animal behavior can call the park’s visitor center. That number is posted on the information signs on the island. And, of course, if visitors see anything that seems urgent or is potentially life-threatening to visitors or wildlife, they should call 911 so park resources can be dispatched.
For more about Cape Lookout National Seashore, be sure to read North Carolina Home To First International Dark Sky Park On Atlantic Coast.
You can learn more about the Outer Banks here: