April 01, 2001


 Wild mustangs get special care from Special Forces

Posted March 15, 2001

Army Special Forces veterinarians treat a constantly changing and growing number of species. They often find themselves in foreign countries, providing aid to local livestock or pets. This can be anything from chickens and cows to dogs and birds. Because of these unpredictable situations, these soldiers take advantage of all the training they can get.

Shackleford horses
Shackleford horses get acquainted with their new temporary home in the pen.

A team of SF medics and veterinarians participated in the Shackleford Island horse roundup on Jan 20. Shackleford Island is a desolate, hourglass-shaped island nestled in a peaceful sound off the coast of North Carolina, and home to more than 100 wild mustangs.

This was the third consecutive year soldiers from the Army Special Forces Command, Fort Bragg, NC, participated in the program. Ten medical personnel from the command volunteered and set out for Shackleford Island the first morning of the roundup with about 80 other volunteers.

Speedboats raced across the cold, choppy waters in the early morning carrying roundup volunteers and workers. By the time they reached the island, a heavy fog had rolled in and the rain started; the roundup had to wait.

Sunday brought brighter skies, but colder weather and winds to the island, as Special Forces soldiers hopped onto all-terrain vehicles and joined National Park Service personnel in the roundup. Walkers, mostly civilian volunteers, were dispatched into heavily wooded areas on the far-western point to flush the horses out.

"We all have the same goal in mind," said Karren Brown, National Park Service superintendent. "This whole operation shows that private organizations can work with the government, and of course, we couldn't do this without Special Forces."

By the end of the day, about 100 of the 131 horses on the island were safely in a pen. The stragglers were rounded up the next morning, when the next stage of the program began—drawing blood and testing, administering vaccines and contraceptives, and branding.

With help from the Special Forces soldiers, representatives from the North Carolina Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services drew blood from 130 horses and sent in the samples for testing to ensure the herd was free of equine infectious anemia.

Dr. Chuck Issel, professor of equine infectious diseases for the University of Kentucky in Lexington, is working on a vaccine for EIA, and Issel has been monitoring the Shackleford Island horses since 1997.

Contraception is another issue. Congress passed an act declaring that 100 to 110 wild horses will live on the island and charged the Foundation for Shackleford Horses and NPS with maintaining the herd.

Sgt 1st Class Brian Allen draws blood under the supervision of field veterinarian Dr. Jimmy Tickle.

"The goal is to balance birth control with the mortality rate," said Jay Kirkpatrick, director of biology for ZooMontana. "If you've got a herd of 65 mares and you give half of them birth control, you're probably going to end up with about 17 foals. If the mortality rate is less than that, you need to vaccinate more horses."

Kirkpatrick administered porcine zona pellucida to 15 mares this year and 31 last year.

NCDA & CS field veterinarian Dr. Jimmy Tickle said the success of the roundup was having all sides working as a team.

"[The team] was to provide a vision for a plan that would include everyone's ultimate goal for the horses," Dr. Tickle said. "The vision was simply to leave the horses better off when we left the island, while attempting to handle the horses as safely and humanely as possible to accomplish the goal.

"Great lengths were taken often at great human effort and expense to provide the horses with the vision of a stable, virus-free, thriving herd of horses that would not endanger their limited environment and were adapted to the management required to maintain their well-being," Dr. Tickle said.

Of the 131 horses on the island, 25 were put up for adoption. According to Margaret Fondry, president of the Foundation for Shackleford Horses, this will be the last roundup for a few years. The herd tested negative for EIA three years in a row, and the population is stabilized.

For information on adopting a Shackleford horse call Karren Brown at (252) 728-2250.