Assateague Island horse herd at ‘ideal’ size, rangers say

WASHINGTON — National Park Service officials have announced that they’re going to let the wild horses on Assateague Island do what comes naturally in the coming year.

Officials told The Maryland Coast Dispatch on Thursday that the herd has reached its ideal size of 80 to 100, and so the contraceptive program that has been employed almost every March for years would be shelved next time around.

The Dispatch reports that the herd stands at 66 mares and 22 stallions, for a total of 88.

“The goal is now to maintain the population within the 80 to 100 range, and to do this, foaling needs to increase to match natural mortality,” said Liz Davis, chief of interpretation and education for the Assateague Island National Seashore.

A few years ago, the herd had swelled to an unmanageable 140.

The contraceptive, known as PZP, is long-term, but not permanent, and is administered by darting the mares. Davis said that a lot of the mares on the island are between 20 and 33 years old — past prime foaling time. So it’s time to encourage new births.

“2017 could be a busy year for horses and the Assateague staff,” Davis said.

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