One of the wild horses that roam Assateague Island National Seashore was shot and killed during last weekend's two-day deer hunt, according to seashore officials.
The carcass of the 28-year-old horse was found Saturday by a hunter, who notified officials.
“We are saddened by the incident and hope that the shooting was accidental," Superintendent Trish Kicklighter said in a seashore release. "Most hunters take pride in their role as conservationists and, to the best of my knowledge, nothing like this has ever happened before in the many, many years that public hunting has taken place in the national seashore.”
The bay mare carried the identification number 'N2BH.' During her lifetime, N2BH foaled six times, and had 11 2nd- and 3rd-generation offspring, according to seashore officials. In recent years she had been treated annually with contraceptives as part of a broader effort to maintain the size of the wild horse population at a sustainable level.
The two-day deer hunt was part of the seashore’s annual hunting program that includes several gun seasons during the fall and early winter. In addition to providing a unique and very popular recreational opportunity at the park system unit that touches parts of Virginia and Maryland, the hunting program is used to manage resident deer populations, according to seashore officials.
Two species of deer are found on Assateague; the native white-tailed deer and the non-native sika deer, introduced to the island during the 1920s. Without the control provided by hunting, the sika deer population would quickly grow and harm the island environment, the seashore said. Hunting was authorized by the federal legislation that established Assateague Island National Seashore in 1965.
From the nature of the wound, it appears that the horse died almost immediately from the gun shot, seashore officials said.
“In addition to physical evidence, we have several good leads that we’re actively pursuing,” said Chief Ranger Ted Morlock. “I’m confident we’ll find out who’s responsible for this unfortunate incident. Regardless of whether the shooting was accidental or not, the failure to report the incident violates National Park Service regulations and we intend to prosecute to the fullest extent of the law.”
The National Park Service is offering a $1,000 reward for information leading to the arrest and conviction of the responsible individual(s). Persons with information about the incident should contact Chief Ranger Morlock at (410) 629-6055, or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org. All information provided may remain confidential.