Bigger wild horse herd key to survival, Jones says

By on July 30, 2010

Voice photo by Pat Morris

Corolla’s herd of wild horses might not survive if its size is limited to 60, U.S. Rep. Walter Jones told a congressional subcommittee this week.

Jones said the limit under the existing management plan is too small for the diversity that geneticists consider is necessary to sustain a healthy population.

The North Carolina Republican testified before the House Subcommittee on Insular Affairs, Oceans and Wildlife, which was considering the Corolla Wild Horses Protection Act.

In a transcript of the statement on his website, Jones said the legislation would require the U.S. Department of the Interior, the state of North Carolina, Currituck County and the non-profit Corolla Wild Horse Fund to agree to a minimum of 110 horses with a target of 120 to 130.

A smaller herd will lead to high levels of inbreeding and threaten the horses’ survival, he said. To help diversify the population, a small number of wild horses from a related herd at Cape Lookout National Seashore would be introduced into the Corolla herd, Jones said.

The size of the herd has been a point of contention for years. Efforts were made to thin it out and bring it to the limit of 60 horses through adoptions and birth control, according to The Virginian-Pilot. One argument is that the horses are not native and habitat for other animals will be damaged if there are too many of them.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, which manages refuges, does not want to raise the number of wild horses without more studies, Mike Bryant, manager of the Alligator River National Wildlife Refuge and supervisor for smaller refuges in the region, including Currituck, told The Virginia-Pilot earlier this year.

“We want to see what the habitat can support,” he told the Pilot.

Mike Hoff, manager of the Currituck National Wildlife Refuge, has begun some habitat studies, the Pilot reported.

Joining in support of the bill, Jones said, is state Senate President Marc Basnight, the Humane Society, North Carolina Gov. Bev Perdue, the County of Currituck, the Animal Welfare Institute, The Foundation for Shackleford Horses, Saving America’s Mustangs, American Wild Horse Preservation Campaign and Equus Survival Trust.

He noted that the General Assembly had recently designated the Colonial Spanish Mustang as the North Carolina state horse.

The Corolla herd roams in and around the Currituck National Wildlife Refuge.

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