ASSATEAGUE – While the census of wild horses on the Maryland side of Assateague is ongoing, it was reported this week two elderly mares have passed away.
The Assateague Island Alliance (AIA), the friends group of Assateague Island National Seashore, which advocates on behalf of the wild horses, this week confirmed the death of two mares. The two mares, M17GMV, or “Little Paka,” and N6BP, or “Lion’s Mane,” were confirmed deceased by Assateague Island National Seashore staff, according to an AIA release.
“Lion’s Mane was a successful mare living to over 30 which is impressive for a domestic horse, let alone a horse living wild and free on a dynamic barrier island,” the AIA statement reads. “She is a perfect example of how adaptable the horses are to this harsh environment and a testament to the National Park Service’s policy to manage the Maryland herd as wildlife. Much the same for Little Paka who would have been 25 this year.”
With the birth of a handful of new foals this year, the population of wild horses on the Maryland side is expected to be within the ideal range of 80-100, but the number will be determined when the census is completed. The National Park Service completes a full census of the horse population on the Maryland side of the barrier island six times per year in February, March, May, July, September and November. Managed as a wildlife population, the Assateague horses are free to roam over the roughly 27 miles of the barrier island and are difficult to find at times.
During each census, the horses are identified by their distinguishing characteristics, mapped and counted. Individual horses that are not observed over multiple census periods are presumed dead. The purpose of the census is to monitor the population dynamics of the horse herd in support of the long-term fertility control program that was initiated in 1994.
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. In almost each year since, selected mares have been injected, or darted more appropriately, with a non-invasive contraceptive called PZP in an effort to maintain the size of the herd on the Maryland side in its manageable threshold.