ASSATEAGUE — The wild pony herd’s newest edition has been quietly getting its legs under it in a remote area at the national seashore.
The latest addition to Assateague’s famed pony herd, with its rather sterile early moniker N9BFQ-GL, was birthed on Assateague sometime in mid-May. The sorrel foal was the first new edition to the wild pony herd in 2013 after a relative baby boom in 2012 when three new ponies were born in the span of a little over two months.
The new foal was berthed by Harmony, officially registered as N9BFQ-G, in a remote part of the island far away from the north end, where Tuesday’s excitement surrounding the discovery and detonation of over 100 pieces of World War II ordnance took place, according to Chief of Interpretation and Education Rachelle Daigneault. Thus far, the foal appears to be thriving although the wild herd is largely left on its own unless illness or injuries occur.
The foal’s current designation is taken from an alpha-numeric system put in place by the National Park Service in the mid-1970s to track the lineage and ancestry of the wild horses and identify which sub-herd they belong to and the areas they frequent on the island.
Another addition to the growing family on the barrier island could occur any day. The mare “Carol’s Girl,” which has already birth 11 foals on Assateague, is due for another any day now. Carol’s Girl has been resistant to birth control efforts. She lives with a group called Yankee’s Band that hangs around the state park.
Because the expectant mother hangs around with a band of wild horses near the developed state park area, park officials are urging the public to give Carol’s Girl and her new addition plenty of space during the process.
The new foals will likely be added to the Assateague Island Alliance’s foster horse program and the agency will probably hold an auction later this year for its naming rights. For example, one of the new foals birthed on the island last year was named Braidwood earlier this year after the successful bidder named the young horse after a character in a book she read about the famed wild ponies on Assateague. Another foal born last year was named Aliyana Grace, which loosely means “beautiful girl” in Spanish after the successful bidder read about one theory of the horses arriving on the island over a century ago from a shipwrecked Spanish galleon.
The island’s wild pony population now stands at around 115, a figure considerably lower than a decade ago, but still far from the target of under 100. While three to five foals are added to the herd in a typical year, an in-kind number drop off due to old age, illness or other natural or man-made factors. The mortality rate is around three to five percent, meaning three to five out of 100 are lost each year to attrition, which corresponds to the three to five new foals birthed each year.
In the interest of managing the size of the herd, which, if left unchecked would overtake the barrier island and gobble up the resources the wild ponies need to survive, the National Park Service several years ago began a contraceptive program for the mares in the herd. The mares are injected with a non-invasive contraceptive to prevent multiple births in an effort to maintain and ultimately shrink the size of the herd to its manageable threshold.
In the interest of maintaining the gene pool of the famous wild ponies, believed to be descendants of domesticated horses placed on the island 300 years ago, each mare is allowed to birth one foal before being put on the contraceptive program.