North Carolina wild horses know how to survive a storm

AP

Thu, Sep 13, 2018 - Page 7

For many vacationers on North Carolina’s Outer Banks, a trip there is not complete without at least catching a glimpse of the majestic wild horses that roam the islands.

As Hurricane Florence approaches, many are expressing concern about how the horses will fare during the powerful Category 4 storm.

The Facebook page of the Corolla Wild Horse Fund was peppered with comments from worried tourists and residents.

“Thinking of all of the horses as Florence approaches... Praying for their safety,” one woman wrote.

“Prayers for protection from the storm for these beautiful animals & the young foals,” another said.

However, wildlife experts said they do not need to worry. Wild horses are believed to have first settled on the Outer Banks hundreds of years ago and have survived many powerful storms.

Sue Stuska, a wildlife biologist based at Cape Lookout National Seashore, where 118 wild horses live on Shackleford Banks, said the horses are highly sensitive to weather changes and instinctively know what to do in a storm.

They go to higher ground during flooding, including the dunes, and head for shrub thickets and a maritime forest during high winds, she said.

“Naturally, they are meant to be outside and they have high ground and they have thick places to hide,” Stuska said. “Don’t worry about them. They’ve survived for hundreds of years and we expect that they’ll be just fine.”

The Corolla Wild Horse Fund, a group devoted to protecting and managing a herd of wild Colonial Spanish Mustangs that roams on the northernmost Currituck Outer Banks, on Monday posted a message on Facebook to reassure horse lovers that they expect the animals to be fine.

“The horses have lived on this barrier island for 500 years, and they are well equipped to deal with rough weather,” the group wrote.

However, horse deaths during storms are not unheard of.

John Taggart, an associate professor emeritus who teaches environmental science at the University of North Carolina at Wilmington, said that five wild horses drowned after they were swept off the Rachel Carson Reserve near Beaufort, North Carolina, during Hurricane Isabel in 2003, but that kind of loss is unusual during storms.

“They do have an instinct for protection, of trying to head for higher ground, getting out of the wind and then sticking together in a group,” he said.