If you ever take a trip to North Carolina’s Outer Banks, you may want to pay a visit to the wild feral horses on Ocracoke Island, Shackleford Banks, Currituck Banks, and in the Rachel Carson Estuarine Sanctuary.
Roaming the beaches and the forests, the Banker Horses, as they’re called, are Colonial Spanish Mustangs that were originally brought to the string of narrow barrier islands by Spanish explorers and colonizers throughout the 16th century.
In recent decades, the Outer Banks has transformed from a remote place where few ever visited to a popular and highly developed vacation destination, and various orgnaizations have worked hard to protect and preserve the small, hardy Banker Horses as their populations dwindle.
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These beautiful black and chestnut horses wander the barrier islands in groups of five or six.
Increasing development and traffic in the Outer Banks has decreased their numbers from thousands to just a few hundred.
Between 1985 and 1996, twenty horses were killed by cars between the towns of Duck and Corolla, and to help put a stop to this, organizations like the Corolla Wild Horse Fund stepped in to help.
Currently the largest herd of about 140 occupies about 7,500 acres of narrow land between Highway 12 in Corolla and the Virginia border, a location that is currently only accessible with a four-wheel drive vehicle.
While a barrier keeps the horses relatively safe from highway traffic, the Corolla herd is dealing with issues of inbreeding due to low populations.
Through the hard work of horse advocates and wildlife conservationists, Congress passed a bill back in 2013 that would allow for the importing of new mares to introduce fresh genes into the herd.
The fate of the Banker Horses has raised questions over whether or not they should be preserved in favor of other animals on the islands, such as endangered birds and tropical sea turtles.
Organizations like the Corolla Wild Horse Fund work hard to protect, conserve, and manage the herd in Corolla while educating the public about them.
To get respite from the flies in the hot summer months, the horses often head down from the marshes towards the ocean and splash around in the water, just like the thousands of humans who vacation at the OBX each year!
The horses also help the local economy thrive, as they are a major draw for tourists and visitors.
“God has put such a beautiful thing here — how can you not want to protect them?” Betty Lane, 70, said to the New York Times in 2012.
The horses have survived in the Outer Banks for five centuries, and are a part of Eastern North Carolina heritage, so it is indeed important to preserve these amazing animals.
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