Wild Horses DID die during Hurricane Dorian

Hurricane Dorian’s storm surge moved too fast for some wild horses

September 26, 2019 

Storm surge killed 28 wild horses on Cedar Island

At first it appeared that all of the wild horses along North Carolina’s barrier islands survived the onslaught of Hurricane Dorian. Wild horse managers explain how the animals gather together under the shelter of trees on higher ground to ride out the storm. That’s how the horses have survived countless hurricanes for centuries. The animals are descendants of the horses brought to the New World by the Spanish. But there’s new information that a smaller, lesser-known herd on Cedar Island fell victim to Hurricane Dorian’s storm surge.

Herd manager Woody Hancock tells the Charlotte Observer that 28 wild horses were swept away by what he describes as a “mini-tsunami.” Hancock, his wife and a few other residents tend the herd. Hurricane Dorian pushed walls of water over the North Carolina coast when the Category 1 storm made landfall on Sept. 6 at Hatteras, less than 40 miles from Cedar Island. When the winds shifted, the surge was pulled back out of the bays and rivers.

“The horses normally see the water start to rise in a storm and migrate to higher ground, but they just didn’t have time," he said. "The shift in the wind happened too fast and they were taken off guard and washed off the island. They didn’t have a chance."

Hancock says while some of the horses were able to swim back to shore, others couldn’t make it. 21 horses survived. Cedar Island sits between the mainland and the Outer Banks and extends into Pamlico Sound. The wild horses there are not as well known as herds in Corolla and on Shackleford Banks. The herd roams freely on 1000 acres of privately owned land.

—Frank Graff 

 Frank Graff is a producer/reporter with UNC-TV, focusing on Sci NC, a broadcast and online science series.