There are herds of wild horses and ponies all along the coastal areas of North Carolina. Descendants of the mustangs brought to the Outer Banks in the 1500s, the horses lived on the barrier islands for centuries. As the area became inhabited by more people, the horses became a tourist attraction. Our family vacationed every year in Nags Head, then a quiet family beach just south of the areas where the wild horses roamed. Imagine my delight when we would drive north and actually see the wild horses running across the sand.
Today the wild horses, especially in Corolla, NC are in danger. Their major problems date to the expansion of Highway 12 in 1988. Before that time there were no paved roads to Corolla. Other herds in NC are federally protected, but the mustangs in Corolla do not enjoy such protection. The size of their State sanctuary has shrunk as the number of vacation homes has risen.
The expansion of the highway naturally brought expansion of development. Now the horses are being called nuisances, competing for limited wildlife resources reduced by the over building in the area. The people came, the people built, and the horses are the losers.
Current plans (backed by the federal government) are to reduce the Corolla herd to just 60 horses. With the human expansion, the horses are now described as feral animals, not native to the Outer Banks and a danger to native wildlife. Opponents of the reduction plan fear that a 60-horse herd leaves them vulnerable to inbreeding and other problems related to a very small gene pool. It appears that the intention is to leave enough horses to attract tourists, yet not inconvenience the people who have built their colorful beach houses in the area.
Both photographs from the Internet with no credit given to the photographers.
I have mixed feelings about the horses. Truly they are not native, but they managed to survive without significant environmental impact for more than four hundred years. The environmental impact in this case is caused by humans moving further and further into the previously undeveloped areas causing all wildlife to have to compete for the few remaining natural resources. I do NOT have mixed feelings about the over development along the fragile Outer Banks. On a visit there last fall, I was appalled at the number of houses and condos dotting the area. Given a false sense of security with no major hurricanes in the recent past, people have built on unstable areas. I saw houses built on land that I remember as inlets. That is the way of the sea. The Outer Banks have historically changed and will continue to change in the future. New inlets will cut through and establish new islands. Sands will shift and land will be lost.
[Disclaimer: I must admit to a very selfish reason that I detest the unsafe expansion of homes along the Outer Banks. In North Carolina, insurance companies are allowed to underwrite policies across the risk spectrum of the state. Therefore my insurance is much more expensive, since I help to pay the cost for the insurance on the beach homes.]
I have no answers for the problem, but I can assure you the horses are not at the root of the problem. The people are the root cause. I give you this fact: Corolla has a year-round population of fewer than 500 people. There are 1,300 (yes, one thousand and three hundred) homes in the Corolla area. You tell me...is it the horses or is it the people?