Last week I visited Assateague Island, a barrier island off the coast of Maryland, to see the famous wild ponies and undeveloped beaches. The island is entirely in public management, with the northern end as a Maryland state park, the middle under management of the National Park Service and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and the southern-most end as a Virginia state park. The ponies are actually maintained in two distinct populations that do not mingle. The northern population is managed by the NPS, including birth control administered by dart gun once a year. (That sounds better than the birth control options available to human females!) The southern herd size is kept down by the annual auction of wild ponies by the Chincoteague Volunteer Fire Department; this is what most people (myself included) have heard of.
It was my first visit to the island, and it wasn’t quite what I expected. First of all, the ponies stood around on the beach in groups of 2 to 4, seemingly oblivious to the many human sunbathers just inches from them. The beach was teaming with beach towels, umbrellas, and beverage-sipping tourists. It was hard to take a photograph that DIDN’T include people. Not quite the wild scene I had envisioned!
The other problem was the greenhead flies. Those guys can really bite! It brought back memories of pulling a seine in tidal creeks of South Carolina and being bitten mercilessly by greenheads with no free hand to swat them away. Sometimes we would have blood running down our arms and legs from these bites. Wow, field work in SC (a.k.a., Why I Have an Office Job). But, that’s another post.
Bottom line: if you get a chance, I recommend a visit to Assateague. More information at http://www.nps.gov/asis/
I love Chincoteague and Assateague. Try one of the wildlife tours to see the ponies in the wild. In the evenings, you can drive your car on the wildlife loop to observe not only ponies but other wildlife.
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