ASSATEAGUE — With one new foal birthed last month and eight more expected, there will be a considerable jump in the wild horse population this year.
Assateague Island National Seashore staffers this week provided an update on the status of the wild horse population on the Maryland side of the barrier island after completing a census last month. The wild horse population census is completed six times a year to provide a solid management plan for the herd.
During the census, the goal is to locate each individual horse, document the bands they are associated and the areas of the island they tend to frequent. According to Assateague Island National Seashore staffers, the March census was particularly significant for several reasons. By the end of March, most of the winter deaths have occurred and been documented and most foals have not yet been born.
The census allows for a good comparison of the herd population from year to year. For example, in the most recent census completed last month, the population was found to be 78, which is up from the 73 in the census in March 2020. At 78, the herd size is inching closer to the ideal range of 80 to 100. Since the census in March 2020, two deaths and seven births have been documented.
Regular monitoring of the herd size allows the National Park Service (NPS) to adjust and adapt its management strategy for the wild horses on Assateague. The popular horses are wild animals and generally left to the whims of nature. However, in the interest of maintaining a healthy population, the NPS in 1994 began a long-term fertility control program.
In support of population management, pregnancy