The horses at Assateague are one of the biggest attractions to the national seashore. However, recently, officials have had to remove one harem stallion that has become too aggressive with food and people.
Human interactions with wildlife are a problem that all of our national parks are facing. From petting younglings to hand-feeding them table scraps, the behavior, though good-natured, can be destructive. This is exactly why national seashore staff had to remove the horse N6ELS-H, also known as “Chip” from the area.
Since 2017, Chip has been in over 50 percent of incidents that have ended in visitor injuries.
“Certain individual horses (and bands) in the Maryland herd are continuing to learn to associate humans with food rewards,” Assateague National Seashore shared on Facebook. “Habituated – or unafraid – horses can easily become food conditioned when they receive food from visitors, both intentionally and unintentionally through improper food storage.”
Unfortunately, reversing behavior once a wild animal has learned to associate people with food is extremely difficult,” the report continued. “We do not take these decisions lightly, but occasionally it is necessary for the safety of visitors and staff.”
The horse will soon be staying at the Cleveland Amory Black Beauty Ranch in Murchison, Texas, a renowned wildlife sanctuary.
Assateague National Seashore Stresses Importance of Food Storage Around Horses
Removing Chip was crucial to ensuring both horse and human safety at the national seashore. However, even more crucial is increased awareness of and adherence to food storage guidelines. Even if visitors aren’t directly feeding the wildlife themselves, improperly stored food encourages horses to depend on people as well.
“All visitors need to take this food storage issue seriously and help us reduce the frequency of inappropriate interactions with the wild horses,” said Seashore Superintendent Hugh Hawthorne. “The free roaming nature of the Assateague horses is what makes them so unique and special, but there are also issues like this that need to be addressed.”
In the report, Assateague officials reminded visitors of the current rules in place.
“Campers can only store food in a vehicle or in a strapped cooler placed inside the food storage box provided by the NPS under all picnic tables,” the report stated.
National seashore visitors must also maintain a distance of over 40 ft or a “bus length” from any wild horses. In addition to the rules, the national seashore has also made some improvements to increase proper storing habits.
“Assateague Island National Seashore replaced all picnic tables in the fall of 2019 with new tables specifically designed with horse-proof food storage compartments to hold standard-sized strapped coolers and hard-sided containers.”
The national seashore stated that “Every visitor shares the responsibility” when it comes to food safety. After all, no one wants to have to remove a wild horse from its own natural habitat.