For many of us, the wild horses on the Outer Banks, though a good 300 miles away, are treasures that appeal to our wild nature. Unfortunately, these horses are facing severe threats from disease and encroaching development. U.S. Sen. Thom Tillis of North Carolina wants to help.
Tillis introducted legislation last week that would provide responsible management of the wild horse population. The time is right.
“A cherished part of our state’s history and an admired attraction, thousands of tourists visit North Carolina’s beaches each year to witness the majestic nature of the Corolla horses,” Tillis said in a news release. “This legislation will take the necessary and proper steps in protecting the health and safety of the wild animals and their habitat, while encouraging continued tourism and economic investment for our local coastal communities.”
Tillis’ bill would require the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the State of North Carolina, Currituck County and the Corolla Wild Horse Fund to work together to craft a new management plan to care for the wild horses.
The wild horses, descendants of Colonia Spanish Mustangs, have lived charmed lives along the Outer Banks, roaming freely with little interference.
But their numbers have dwindled from 5,000 or 6,000 in 1926 to about 100 now. And while they used to roam widely, they’ve been moved steadily north to smaller terrain by coastal development.
Earlier this month, a fungus-like disease known as “swamp cancer,” exacerbated by warmer winters along the coast, claimed the lives of seven wild ponies on a Virginia island, The Associated Press reported.
The Corolla horses are being monitored for signs of a similar outbreak.
They also face threats from overzealous tourists who try to feed them foods that can actually be deadly for them. A local law requires people to stay 50 feet away from the horses, but not everyone pays attention.
A nonprofit organization, the Corolla Wild Horse Fund, tries to protect the horses while maintaining a healthy distance, but their resources are limited.
Tillis’ bill could help institute protections. It’s supported by the Humane Society and American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals.
Of course, the introduction of this bill is only the first of many steps, but it’s one that’s necessary. We hope the Senate will take it up.
On a related note, Rep. Walter Jones, who represents North Carolina’s 3rd District, passed similar legislation in the U.S. House in 2013 to protect the Corolla wild horses, but the Senate never considered it.
Jones, 75, recently entered hospice care with an undisclosed illness. During his time in office, he regularly bucked the Republican establishment, earning a reputation for following his conscience rather than his party. He served in the North Carolina National Guard from 1967 to 1971, and initially voted in favor of the 2002 Iraq war, but in 2005, he renounced his vote. Subsequently, he signed more than 12,000 letters to families who lost loved ones in the Iraq and Aftghanistan wars. “…that was me asking God to forgive me for my mistake,” Jones told NPR.
Jones was elected to 13 terms in the House, most recently in November. His advocacy for the Corolla wild horses will always be a part of his legacy.