Campaign Launched to Educate Public on N.C. Wild Ponies

Cape Lookout National Seashore superintendent Pat Kenney, Foundation for Shackleford Horses' president Carolyn Mason, and Rachel Carson National Estuarine Research Reserve site manager Paula Gillikin have announce the opening of the joint Wild Horse Protection and Public Safety Campaign.

The horses in Cape Lookout National Seashore (Shackleford Banks) and the Rachel Carson Reserve (Carrot Island) are a major draw for visitors to the Crystal Coast of North Carolina. Locals and businesses alike recognize the popularity of these free-roaming symbols of freedom. However, the wild nature of the horses and public safety are both at stake.

Both the park and the reserve have seen an increase in visitors along with an increase in people trying to get too close to the horses.

"Just because horses don't run away from people doesn't mean that they welcome human contact," advised Mason.

In fact, getting too close to the horses disturbs their natural activities and can lead to immediate and long-term negative impacts. For example, people who disturb horses sometimes disrupt the animals' natural drinking habits, which can prevent horses from getting enough to drink on a hot day and lead to potentially fatal illnesses. Continued disturbances can also lead to long-term impacts such as an overall decline in the health of the horse herd.

Interacting with wild horses can also put people and pets at risk, as wild horses can be dangerous and unpredictable. A frightened horse could trample someone in an attempt to escape, or bite or kick someone who gets too close. A horse can outrun a human, bite with crushing strength, and kick with amazing speed and accuracy.

"Any time wild animals get used to people approaching them, the animals lose in the end," Gillikin said. "When naturally shy wildlife becomes too familiar with people, the wild animals may turn on people in an attempt to defend their personal space. On our islands, there is nowhere to go to get away from an aggressive horse.

"A horse that displays repeated aggressive behavior towards humans may have to be removed from the islands to protect public safety," Gillikin continued. "We hope to avoid this scenario by educating the public about acting appropriately around the horses."

"In Cape Lookout, feeding, touching, teasing, frightening, or intentionally disturbing wildlife, including horses, is a violation of federal regulations, and can result in fines," Kenney noted.

There are also legal protections for the horses that live on the Rachel Carson Reserve. Visitors are required by local ordinance to maintain a distance of 50 feet from the horses.

Cape Lookout has a hotline for people who wish to report a horse disturbance. If visitors observe someone disturbing wildlife, they can take a photo and call the park at 252/728-2250, ext. 4444. Calls can be anonymous or the caller can leave a name. For more information please contact Cape Lookout National Seashore at 252/728-2250, ext. 3014; the Foundation for Shackleford Horses at 252/728-6308 or 252/241-5222; or the Rachel Carson Reserve at 252/838-0886.

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