Wild horse dies from contaminated water on Outer Banks

Contaminated water is blamed in the death of a wild horse on the Outer Banks, leading to a search for the deadly watering hole.

The 8-year-old stallion, named Taco, is the fourth wild horse to be killed by “bacteria or other contaminants in the water” over the past two years, according to the Corolla Wild Horse Fund.

“We have collected water from various locations in Taco’s territory, and will send it out for testing next week,” herd manager Meg Puckett wrote in an Oct. 29 Facebook post.

“This will give us an idea of the quality of the water, and will indicate the presence of contaminants like e. Coli and salmonella. Unfortunately there is not much we can do to rid the water of bacteria, but having this information on hand at least gives us an idea of which areas might be more problematic than others.”

The family of horses that accompanied Taco each day are not showing symptoms of illness, which include “intestinal distress,” she said.

A “solid freeze” in the winter is often the best way to rid water on the barrier islands of deadly contaminants, the fund says.

The loss is all the more tragic because Taco was well known and beloved by people living in the area, in part because “a large lump” on his hip (a harmless abscess) made him stand out in the herd, officials said.

“Taco had such a big personality, and so many people became attached to him,” Puckett said.

“Over the summer he managed to steal a large group of mares from another stallion. We were so hopeful that he would produce some offspring. … The loss of Taco’s genetics from the herd is truly devastating.”

It’s still possible one of those mares might be pregnant, she said.

The Corolla Wild Horse Fund is a nonprofit that tends a herd of about 105 wild horses on the north end of the barrier islands. Another herd roams the southern end of the island chain, on Shackleford Banks within Cape Lookout National Seashore.

This story was originally published October 29, 2021 6:47 PM.

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Mark Price has been a reporter for The Charlotte Observer since 1991, covering beats including schools, crime, immigration, LGBTQ issues, homelessness and nonprofits. He graduated from the University of Memphis with majors in journalism and art history, and a minor in geology.

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