CHARLOTTE, N.C. — The mass evacuation of North Carolina’s Outer Banks for Hurricane Dorian will not include the herds of wild horses roaming freely on the fragile barrier islands.
The herds, which include awkward foals born in the spring, are destined to fend for themselves as the Category 2 hurricane whips the islands with storm surge, inches of rain and possibly tornadoes.
How will they survive?
“The wild horses are better equipped to handle a hurricane than most of us humans living on the Outer Banks,” the Corolla Wild Horse Fund wrote on Facebook. “They go to high ground, under the sturdy live oak trees to ride the storm out. Remember, they’ve been doing this for 500 years.”
They also have a trick of huddling together with their “butts to the wind” that works almost magically to stabilize the horses against relentless storm gusts, Corolla herd manager Meg Puckett says.
“It’s one of the few times we see a lot of the different harems come together,” Puckett told ObxToday.com.
The best known of the herds (each with about 100 horses) live on Corolla and the Shackleford Banks. Both herds have nonprofits dedicated to their care, including rescue farms where injured and sick horses are taken for care.
Puckett says the Corolla Wild Horse Fund rescue farm is stocking up on hay and grain, and has filled troughs with extra water. A manager will stay with the horses during the storm, she said.
N.C. Gov. Roy Cooper called for an evacuation of the state’s barrier islands, including the Outer Banks, Bogue Banks and Shackleford Banks. Counties bordering the state’s coastal rivers, bays and sounds have also issued mandatory evacuations, urging residents to leave Wednesday.
The National Hurricane Center predicts Hurricane Dorian, which has sustained winds of 105 mph, will be near Category 2 strength (winds up to 110 mph) when it passes “dangerously close” — or over — the Outer Banks Thursday or Friday.
National Weather Service forecasters say coastal counties could see storm surge 7 feet above normal, 10 to 15 inches of rain, tornadoes and power outages.
The herds at Corolla and Shackleford Banks typically survive such storms without causalities, but deaths have been reported among wild horses elsewhere on the coast.
In October 2003, the bodies of five wild horses were found on Harkers Island after Hurricane Isabel, the Charlotte Observer reported that year.
The horses were believed to have died while swimming from the mainland to the island, which is between the mainland and the Shackleford Banks, the newspaper reported.
Historians believe the wild horses descend from stock brought to the “New World” centuries ago by early explorers, including mustangs that swam from shipwrecks on North Carolina’s deadly coastal shoals.