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Don’t feed dog food to Assateague Horses

When visiting beautiful, wild Assateague Island, remember not to feed the famous wild horses and to cover up all food on campgrounds! Assateague Island National Seashore  officials say a young mare died last week after munching on some dog food.

The seven-year-old mare, identified as N2BHS-AI but nicknamed Chama Wingapo, was found dead in a campground on July 20. Chama Wingapo was one mare to birth a foal last year during the summer of love, where five foals were born.

There were no visible injuries on the horse, but an investigation showed that she had ingested large amount of dog food as early as July 17. Following a dissection, Assateague officials determined that the dog food caused a blockage, which lead to a rupture of the intestine.

Why would dog food be deadly to tough horses that can withstand scorching heat, swarms of mosquitos, stormy weather and poor quality food found on a remote, windswept island? Assateague Island officials said most dog food contains corn, soybean, and animal products with a very high carbohydrate, protein and fat content. This recipe is too rich for a feral animal whose natural diet consists of low nutrient, high fiber saltmarsh and beach grasses.

In addition to the fearless nature of the horses, which are used to humans and stealing treats from picnic baskets, Assateague Island National Seashore officials are reminding visitors to keep human treats covered.

“Sadly, this incident demonstrates that ‘a fed horse is a dead horse.’ While the dog food may not have been given directly to the horse, the dog food was not properly stored away from the horses and other wildlife,” said AINS Chief of Interpretation and Education Liz Davis via Facebook post.  “All food, including your pet’s food, must be properly stored. This tragic incident could have been prevented by simply storing pet food in a vehicle.”

Visitors are also asked to leave water spigots around the campsites off for the wild ponies as well, no matter how hot the days get. Horses will associate the spigots as a potential water source, visting them as part of their routines.

Therefore, the horses could get territorial and kick and bite anything (or anyone) who gets too close to the water spigot.

Since we’re all visitors at Assateague Island, remember that we’re responsible for every item we bring into the island. Here’s a few tips to follow while out watching the wild ponies play on the beach:

  • Horses can open snap-on lids and latches. Coolers and containers “stored” under picnic tables are not secure from horses and wildlife. Secure all coolers with a nylon strap to prevent wildlife from opening.
  • Secure all tote or beach bags with a zippered closure. Horses can easily access open totes and bags.
  • Store all unattended food in your vehicle.
  • Store all pet food in your vehicle. Do not leave your pet’s food and water bowls unattended. Horses, like your pets, are opportunists and will take advantage of a free meal.
  • Keep food stored if horses are in your immediate vicinity. Wait until they have moved on before beginning your meal.
  • Dispose of your trash immediately in dumpsters. The smell from food wrappers will attract horses and other wildlife, and if ingested could cause death.
Boardwalk Birdie
Boardwalk Birdie
Boardwalk Birdie has flown all over, but there's no place she likes better than Ocean City. Some of her favorite spots include Assateague Island, the benches on the boards near Third Street, and Decatur Diner. She loves hearing titterings and tweets from readers, so drop her a line at boardwalkbirdie@gmail.com

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