Hurricane Florence: How wild horses in North Carolina will survive the deadly storm

The horses are believed to have lived in the Outer Banks for centuries

Chris Riotta
New York
Thursday 13 September 2018 22:22 BST
Hurricane Florence: New satellite video shows storm raging as it heads toward US east coast

Herds of wild horses roaming across North Carolina have used their instincts to survive major storms like Hurricane Florence for centuries.

As the Category 2 hurricane churns towards the US coastline with an expanding potential for rain and storm surges, experts have said they are confident the horses will endure yet another natural disaster.

Wild horses are believed to have first settled on the Outer Banks hundreds of years ago and have survived many powerful storms.

Sue Stuska, a wildlife biologist based at Cape Lookout National Seashore, where 118 wild horses live on Shackleford Banks, said the horses are highly sensitive to weather changes and instinctively know what to do in a storm. She said they go to higher ground during flooding, including the dunes, and head for shrub thickets and a maritime forest during high winds.

“Naturally, they are meant to be outside and they have high ground and they have thick places to hide,” Ms Stuska said. ”Don't worry about them. They've survived for hundreds of years, and we expect that they'll be just fine.”

The Corolla Wild Horse Fund, a group devoted to protecting and managing a herd of wild Colonial Spanish Mustangs that roams on the northernmost Currituck Outer Banks, posted a message on its Facebook page Monday to reassure horse lovers that they expect the animals will be just fine.

Hurricane Florence: New satellite video shows storm raging as it heads toward US east coast

"The horses have lived on this barrier island for 500 years, and they are well equipped to deal with rough weather," the group wrote. "They know where to go to stay high and dry and are probably in better shape right now than most of us humans who are scrambling with final preparations. They are much better off without any help from us; anything we might do in the hopes of 'protecting' them would probably end up being more dangerous and stressful for them than the storm."

In fact, the horses are more likely to fare better in their natural habitat than they would if removed from the area by humans, according to Meg Puckett, herd manager of the Corolla Wild Horse Fund.

“We do everything that we can to protect them, but in situations like this, these horses have incredible instincts,” she told CNN. ”They're so resourceful, and they have an incredibly strong will to live.”

Horse deaths during storms are not unheard of, however.

John Taggart, an associate professor emeritus who teaches environmental science at the University of North Carolina at Wilmington, said five wild horses drowned after they were swept off the Rachel Carson Reserve near Beaufort, North Carolina, during Hurricane Isabel in 2003. But he added that the kind of loss seen that year is unusual during storms.

“They do have an instinct for protection, of trying to head for higher ground, getting out of the wind and then sticking together in a group,” he said.

The Associated Press contributed to this report

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