HARKERS ISLAND – The oldest mare on Shackleford Banks died last year at age 34, one of 11 horse deaths in 2018, according to an annual report made public last week.
At the end of 2018, there were 116 horses living on the banks, according to the report that the Cape Lookout National Seashore and the Foundation for Shackleford Horses released Thursday. The herd is 62% female and 38% male, with 3 males and 17 females over the age of 20.
Since 1999, the average lifespan of horses on Shackleford Banks has been about 11 years. Though the mortality rate was 9% with the 11 deaths last year, the mortality rate for the herd still averaged about 6%.
Public education is the most important factor in protecting the wild horses on Shackleford, officials said. Both Cape Lookout National Seashore and the Foundation for Shackleford Horses increased efforts through programming and media outreach to share with the public how best to watch the horses without interacting with them or interrupting their natural behavior.
Additionally, the park offers Junior Ranger Wild Horse Protector activity for sixth- through eighth-grade students. A parent, guardian, or youth leader may check out a backpack with instruments needed to complete activities like those done by the wild horse biologist. Upon completion, students receive an award and are certified as Wild Horse Protectors.