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Bill would aid wild horses

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Monday, February 25, 2019

News & Record of Greensboro

Although they are a good 300 miles away, the wild horses on the Outer Banks, for many North Carolinians, are natural treasures that belong to us all. Unfortunately, these horses are facing severe threats from disease and encroaching development.

U.S. Sen. Thom Tillis of North Carolina wants to help. Tillis has introduced legislation that would provide responsible management of the wild horse population. The time is right.

“A cherished part of our state’s history and an admired attraction, thousands of tourists visit North Carolina’s beaches each year to witness the majestic nature of the Corolla horses,” Tillis said in a news release. “This legislation will take the necessary and proper steps in protecting the health and safety of the wild animals and their habitat, while encouraging continued tourism and economic investment for our local coastal communities.”

Tillis’ bill would require the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the state of North Carolina, Currituck County and the Corolla Wild Horse Fund to work together to craft a new management plan to care for the wild horses.

The horses, descended from Colonial Spanish Mustangs, have lived charmed lives along the Outer Banks, roaming freely with little interference. But their numbers have dwindled from 5,000 or 6,000 in 1926 to about 100 now. And though they used to roam widely, they’ve been squeezed steadily northward to smaller terrain by coastal development.

Earlier this month, a funguslike disease known as “swamp cancer,” exacerbated by warmer winters, claimed the lives of seven wild ponies on a Virginia island. The Corolla horses are being monitored for signs of a similar outbreak.

They also face threats from overzealous tourists who try to feed them foods that can actually be deadly for them. A local law requires people to stay 50 feet away from the horses, but not everyone pays attention.

The nonprofit Corolla Wild Horse Fund tries to protect the horses while maintaining a healthy distance, but its resources are limited. Tillis’ bill would help and is supported by the Humane Society and American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals.

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