Because there were no full time staff at the Corolla Wild Horse Fund prior to late 2006, very little actual management of the wild herd was possible. Now, CWHF has five full-time staff, including a Herd Manager who works tirelessly to responsibly manage the herd.
Managing wild horses on 7,544 acres of diverse habitat, combined with almost 700 houses and thousands of people and vehicles presents many complex challenges. During the height of tourist season, we respond to an average of 100 calls per month regarding wild horse issues. Many calls are after normal business hours. We respond 24 hours a day, 365 days a year.
Each wild horse is documented by the Herd Manager and entered in a data base. Horses are not branded or micro chipped. They are identified by color, markings, and their home territories. The Herd Manager spends 20 – 30 hours per week in the field observing all the harems and documenting body condition, habitat usage, and harem composition. An annual aerial count is conducted by helicopter and compared to field notes.
Injured or sick horses are treated in the field if possible. Minor injuries are treated by the Herd Manager by capture and release. More serious injuries or illnesses may require capture and removal or euthanization. The Fund has written policies outlining procedures to be followed. Veterinarians are called in from Dominion Equine in Suffolk, VA for assessment, treatment, or humane euthanization.
When a wild horse is removed from its habitat, it cannot be returned to the wild. Once it has been exposed to domestic horses, there is a risk that the wild horse could carry back a disease for which the herd has no immunity. Any horse that is removed either has a life threatening injury or illness or has become dangerously habituated to humans. Although it is illegal to get closer than 50 feet or to feed a wild horse, unfortunately, there are always those who feel that the law does not apply to them and then wild horses suffer the consequences. Tanner, a two week old foal, died when visitors fed him watermelon rind. A necropsy showed it lodged in his colon causing what must have been excruciating pain from the impaction. Wild horses eat a very specialized diet that does not include common foods fed to domestic horses like apples and carrots. Besides being against the law, feeding puts the wild horse at risk for painful colic at the very least, and death, at the very worst.
The Corolla Wild Horse Fund employs a darted immunocontraception program using the FDA approved substance PZP (porcine zona pelucida). It is conducted under the auspices of the Humane Society of the United States and the Science and Conservation Center in Billings, Montana. Our Herd Manager has undergone extensive training at the Center to safely deliver PZP by Co2 pistol, CO2 rifle, or by blow gun. It is administered annually and is the least invasive method of delivery and the most humane method to control population. For example, a 16 year old mare that no longer is giving birth every year, will live a longer and healthier life in the wild.
Responsible wild horse management requires 100% dedication. Because our staff is so small, in addition to his herd management duties, the CWHF Herd Manager also has to participate in education activities that involve horses both on and offsite; care for and gentle horses awaiting adoption; participate in fund raising activities; attend Wild Horse Advisory Board meetings and CWHF Board meetings; and work in the Wild Horse museum in the off season. The CWHF Herd Manager and CWHF staff all work cooperatively with other equine organizations both statewide and nationally to assure best practices in the management of the wild horses.