ASSATEAGUE – One of Assateague’s famed wild horses was killed last week, the apparent victim of a gunshot from a hunter on the barrier island.
Assateague Island National Seashore Superintendent Trish Kicklighter this week announced one of the wild horses inhabiting the barrier island was shot and killed last weekend during a planned, two-day deer hunt. The 28-year-old horse was found dead by a hunter last Saturday and was reported to park rangers the following day.
“We are saddened by the incident and we hope that the shooting was accidental,” said Kicklighter this week. “Most hunters take pride in their role as conservationists, and to the best of my knowledge, nothing like this has ever happened before in the many, many years that public hunting has taken place in the National Seashore.”
An investigation into the shooting is underway and the National Park Service is offering a $1,000 reward for information leading to the arrest and conviction of the individual or individuals involved in the shooting. From the nature of the wound, it appears the horse died almost immediately from the gunshot, according to Chief Ranger Ted Morlock.
“In addition to physical evidence, we have several good leads that we’re actively pursuing,” he said. “I’m confident we’ll find out who is responsible for this unfortunate incident. Regardless of whether the shooting was accidental or not, the failure to report the incident violates National Park Service regulations and we intend to prosecute to the fullest extent of the law.”
The horse that was killed was a 28-year-old mare with the identification number N2BH. While some of the wild ponies on Assateague are known by regular names, each is assigned a letter-number combination linked to the specific herds that allow park officials to track their whereabouts and breeding habits, for example.
During her lifetime, N2BH foaled six times and had 11 second or third generation offspring. In recent years, N2BH had been treated annually with contraceptives as part of a broader effort to maintain the size of the wild horse population at a sustainable level.
The two-day January deer hunt on Assateague is part of the National Seashore’s annual hunting program that includes several gun seasons during the fall and early winter. In addition to providing a unique and popular recreational opportunity, the hunting program is used to manage resident deer populations.
Two species of deer are found on Assateague including the native white-tailed deer and the non-native sika deer, introduced to the island during the 1920s. Without the control provided by hunting, the non-native sika deer population would quickly grow and harm the native island environment. Hunting was authorized on Assateague by the federal legislation that established the National Seashore in 1965.
While it is uncertain if last week’s incident was the first involving one of Assateague’s wild horses being shot by a hunter, there have been other fatalities associated with human interaction. The herd of wild ponies on the barrier island is largely independent and there are policies and practices in place to ensure their safety, but with hundreds of thousands of visitors to the island each year, some incidents are unavoidable. For example, a 25-year-old mare was struck and killed by a vehicle near the Verrazano Bridge in July 2009.
The National Park Service is urging anyone with information about the incident to contact Chief Ranger Ted Morlock at 410-629-6055, or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.