Year’s Fifth Foal Born On Assateague Island

Year’s Fifth Foal Born On Assateague Island
Years Fifth

ASSATEAGUE — After months of anticipation, Charmed birthed her foal on Assateague on Tuesday, representing the fifth and likely final new addition to the herd of wild horses on the Maryland side this year.

Charmed was the fifth mare in the herd of wild horses on the Maryland side of Assateague to birth a foal this year. Charmed was one of three mares that tested positive for pregnancy last fall along with JoJo and Carol’s Girl.

Two additional mares, Gokey Go Bones and Chama Wingapo, did not test positive when Assateague Island National Seashore officials conducted their annual pregnancy tests on the wild horses last November, but delivered surprise foals earlier this summer. With Charmed’s expected addition this week, the number of new foals birthed this year now stands at five.

The birth of the foal was not without some intrigue in the soap opera that the Assateague’s herd of wild horses has become. Charmed was often seen with the stallion Tunkan Hoksila last fall at the time the pregnancy tests were conducted and was likely the new foal’s sire. Tragically, Assateague officials announced in early August the 16-year-old stallion had to be euthanized after getting struck by a vehicle and breaking its right hind leg. That tragic loss was tempered somewhat by the surprise birth of a new foal to Chama Wingapo just days later.

The new foal birthed to Charmed on Tuesday is now known only as N10T-JO. In the 1970s, the National Park Service began assigning alpha-numeric names to the horses in order to track their lineage as well as identify to which sub-herd they belong and the areas on the island they tend to frequent. Each year, the Assateague Island Alliance (AIA), the friends group of the Assateague Island National Seashore, which advocates on behalf of the island’s most famed residents, holds naming contests for new foals birthed on the barrier island, and with five new additions this year, the organization will have its hands full in the coming months.

The trend in recent years has been one or two new foals, or even zero in some cases, but five new foals have joined the herd this year. Last year, just a single new foal was birthed on Assateague by JoJo. The new foal was later named Jasper after a record-breaking naming contest conducted by the AIA last December. With five new additions this year, along with the tragic loss of Tunkan in August, the size of the herd on the Maryland side now stands at 87, which is well within the ideal target range of 80-100.

It’s important to note the popular horses on Assateague are wild animals and generally left to the whims of nature. However, in the interest of maintaining a healthy population size, the National Park Service several years ago began a contraceptive program for the mares. Selected mares are injected with a non-invasive contraceptive called PZP in an effort to maintain the size of the herd in its manageable threshold.

As recently as just a few years ago, the size of the wild horse population on Assateague had swelled to around 140, or well north of the target range. However, with some losses to old age, illness or other natural or man-made causes, including the loss of Tunkan to a motor vehicle collision in August, NPS Resource Management has moved from a reduction phase to an adaptive phase. As a result, fewer mares were injected with the contraceptive last year, resulting in a spike in births this summer.

In an annual ritual on the barrier island each November, a biological technician conducts pregnancy tests of sorts on the mares in the herd in an attempt to predict how many, if any, new foals will join the herd in the coming year. The biological technician spends much of November following the mares in the herd and waiting for them to defecate. The samples are collected and frozen before being sent to a lab to be analyzed to determine if any of the mares will be expecting in the coming year. Three mares tested positive last November, while two others who birthed foals this year, including Gokey Go Bones and Chama Wingapo did not. However, it is likely those mares had just recently conceived and did not test positive on the November tests.

The new foal birthed on Tuesday was seen shortly thereafter with mom Charmed and grandmother Ninka, representing three generations enjoying the marsh. AIA officials urged curiosity seekers and well-wishers to give the young family plenty of space should they encounter the new addition and her mare on the barrier island.

Charmed is a first-time mother and the NPS typically recommends maintaining at least a bus length’s distance from the horses, but the new family will require much more space at this time to allow them to recover from the stress of giving birth and welcoming a new foal into the band.

About The Author: Shawn Soper

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Shawn Soper has been with The Dispatch since 2000. He began as a staff writer covering various local government beats and general stories. His current positions include managing editor and sports editor. Growing up in Baltimore before moving to Ocean City full time three decades ago, Soper graduated from Loch Raven High School in 1981 and from Towson University in 1985 with degrees in mass communications with a journalism concentration and history.