At Cape Lookout National Seashore, Six Bankers Are Put Up for Adoption

Soprano is "quiet and reserved." NPS photo by Carolyn Mason.

Six horses born wild in Cape Lookout National Seashore have been removed for population control and will be given permanent homes by adoptive owners.

Dubbed "bankers," the free-roaming horses living on the near-pristine Shackleford Banks in Cape Lookout are part of the Outer Banks' rich cultural history. In fact, the bankers have been there for centuries. How they got there in the first place remains a matter of debate. However, the Horse of the America’s Registry recognizes the animals as being genetically linked to the horses the Spanish brought to America's Atlantic Coast during the colonial era.

Although bankers are thriving in their seashore home, population increase poses persistent problems. Natural limiting factors such as predation, disease, starvation, storm surge flooding, and fresh water scarcity do not suffice to keep the population in check. Without population control through human intervention there would be -- at least at times -- many more horses than the Shackleford Banks ecosystem should support. Because the population is isolated, inbreeding is also a threat to the long-term health of the bankers.

Overpopulation would be bad for both the horses and the ecosystem. Even when food and other resource needs can be met, having too many horses on the island means overgrazing and other problems, especially excessive trampling of plants and the nests of turtles or ground-nesting birds.

The Shackleford Banks Wild Horses Protection Act (Public Law 105-229) specifies that Shackleford's bankers are to be jointly managed by the National Park Service and another qualified nonprofit entity. In partnership with the state of North Carolina and several private organizations, the Park Service employs a broadly-based strategy for maintaining the Shackleford horse population within ecologically appropriate limits. This is currently thought to be in the range of 120-130 animals.

Because birth control measures (primarily the chemical sterilization of females) do not alone suffice, some of the young animals are periodically removed and put up for adoption.

Unlike the thousands of wild horses rounded up on public lands in the western states, many of which languish in enclosures for years, the comparatively few Shackleford horses removed as surplus are adopted out with little difficulty. The small, sturdy bankers, typically weighing in at 800-1,000 pounds and standing a bit less than five feet high at the withers, make fine companions for people and other horses. They have a well-deserved reputation for being calm, exceptionally intelligent, and easily trainable for riding or driving.

The Foundation for Shackleford Horses, Inc., which has handled adoptions since 2000 and placed more than 60 bankers, makes the animals available on a first-come basis to owners who meet facility requirements and pay an adoption fee.

The six bankers available now -- three geldings born in 2008, one gelding born in 2007, and two fillies born in 2008 -- all wear halters and can be led. The geldings of 2008 include Adagio ("calm, curious"), Bolero ("nice, patient"), and Disco ("friendly, calm"). The gelding of 2007, Soprano, is considered "quiet and reserved." The fillies are Salsa ("calm, sweet”) and Samba ("nosey, bright”).

For more information and/or an adoption application contact Anita Kimball at 252-241-5222 or (after 6:00 p.m.) Joy Lawrence at 252-728-7111. To make an appointment to see the horses, contact Anita Kimball. In Florida, contact Bob Cubbage at 352-817-3576.