There are signs, there’s a billboard, there’s educational material distributed by rental agencies, there are warnings plastered on websites and social media and there are deputies patrolling the beach, but people — hundreds of them — continue ignoring the warnings to stay away from the Outer Banks endangered herd of Colonial Spanish mustangs.
The law states that everyone must stay at least 50 feet away from the wild horses roaming the beaches of the Currituck Outer Banks. Petting them and feeding them is illegal. Yet all day, every day in the summertime, the Corolla Wild Horse fund fields calls and messages about people breaking the rules.
This week, that disregard for the rules resulted in the worst possible outcome. Danny, a yearling colt, died a slow and painful death after being given an apple.
Danny’s death isn’t just sad, it’s a critical loss for the future of the wild horse herd.
“We only have 100 horses left in the wild and every single one lost is devastating to the genetic health and diversity,” said Meg Puckett, the CWHF’s herd manager. “It’s hard enough to lose one to natural causes like Valor and the snake bite, but to lose one to something caused by humans and so easily avoided is just … I don’t even have a word for how bad that is.”
The sheriff’s office, too, has received numerous complaints over the summer of people approaching or corralling the wild horses along the beaches of Currituck for the purpose of feeding, petting or taking photos.
In June, the CWHF received a call about a distressed foal, and responded immediately along with law enforcement. Sebastian was separated from his mom by a fence (she could easily get over, he could not) and got surrounded by onlookers and panicked. In the end, mom and foal were reunited but it could have ended much differently.
That example is just one of many.
The Currituck County Sheriff’s Office last year instituted a “no warning” rule for citing those caught harassing the wild horses, and that directive continues this year. The county ordinance carries a $500 maximum fine, and requires a mandatory court appearance.
Currituck County Sheriff’s Office Chief Deputy Jeff Walker said deputies issued 15 tickets to people violating the horse ordinance last month.
Puckett said the CWHF has ordered 200 new yard signs warning people not to feed or approach the wild horses. This week, staffers placed two large, south-facing signs near Weeping Radish Brewery with similar warnings.
Puckett hopes that people will do research on the wild horses and the rules regarding human interaction before visiting. And take it “seriously when we say that feeding and interaction can kill them.”
One of the biggest ways you can help the wild horses is follow the rules (if a horse walks up to you, walk away), and report violations when you see them to the Currituck County Sheriff’s Office.
This story originally appeared on OBXToday.com. Read More local stories here.