The 2021 findings report on the Shackleford Banks horse herd published Thursday found that at the end of 2021, there were 121 horses on the island that is part of Cape Lookout National Seashore. Of those, 61% are female and 39% are male.
The seashore and the nonprofit Foundation for Shackleford Horses annually release a report on the status of the horses.
Other findings include that the average lifespan of the horses has been around 11 years since 1999. Herd mortality averages 6% between 1991 and 2001. There were 11 foals sighted and the oldest living horse on the island is a 28-year-old mare.
The 56-mile seashore is between Beaufort Inlet and Ocracoke Inlet. Shackleford Banks is the southernmost barrier island in the park, south of the Beaufort and Harkers Island. Shackleford Banks is around 8 miles long and ranges from less than a half-mile wide to nearly 1.5 miles wide.
The seashore and the foundation emphasize that the most important way to protect the wild horses is through public education and efforts to inform the public how best to watch the horses without interacting with them or interrupting their natural behavior have been increased, officials said.
One way to learn about the herd is through the “Horse Sense and Survival” tours which are set to resume this year.
Young visitors can learn more about the wild horses by taking part in the Junior Ranger Wild Horse Protector activity. Sixth through eighth grade students with a parent, guardian, or youth leader, can check out a backpack with instruments needed to complete activities like those done by the wild horse biologist. Once completed, students receive an award and are certified as Wild Horse Protectors.