September 7, 2018
North Carolina’s beloved coastal wild horses have been put on birth control.
Getting them to take their dose is not easy, however, say experts.
Herd manager Meg Puckett, who works with the Corolla Wild Horse Fund, says she has to chase the mares down and administer the drug with “birth control darts” fired from an air rifle.
Tougher still, she says, are the questions raised when tourists see a woman shooting at horses that are protected by law. The herds have roamed the state’s Outer Banks for 500 years, and are believed to be descended from Spanish Mustangs brought by early settlers, says OuterBanks.com.
“It can draw a crowd, so I usually have to have someone with me for crowd control,” says Puckett. “We also alert the sheriff’s department.”
The Corolla Wild Horse Fund brought attention to the little known effort Friday, by posting a photo on Facebook of a horse with a dart sticking out of its rump, calling it “population control at work.”
Puckett says the goal is to control breeding, not to stop it.
Too many young mares were getting pregnant annually, she says, leading them to either abandon foals or try to raise as many as three at once. Sickly older mares were also breeding past their prime, leading to sickly offspring, she said.
The solution, introduced in 2008, has been to administer birth control to all mares who are younger than age 5 or older than age 15, Puckett says. Each dose is good for a year, she says, and the darts are made to fall out as soon as the horse starts walking. (She then retrieves the dart.)
That leaves about 20 mares in the market for a good stallion, she says. The herd is currently just over 90 animals, leaving room for about 20 more, she said.
“It’s like a bee sting and some don’t even flinch from the dart,” Puckett says. “They just look at me and go back to grazing.”