Annual Report, 2001
The most important event of this past year has been the confirmation of growing suspicion about why the Abaco Wild Horses have stopped reproducing. A sharp increase in hoof problems, lameness and increasing obesity of the mares due to unnatural environment is preventing reproduction. This diagnosis has been confirmed by experts who have observed the horses firsthand. Among the experts, Dr. Derrick Bailey, DVM, a local veterinarian who has helped treat the horses, Dr. Gary Garcia, DVM, a horse reproduction expert from Florida, Frank Bell, a professional Horse Whisperer, Clifford Wilson, a farrier who works closely with Dr. Garcia, and Patrick Rogers who worked as a farrier with the Irish National Stud for 20 years. The herd is down to 16 horses.
The reason the horses are suffering from these problems is that since Hurricane Floyd nearly all of the horses' trails have been blocked with fallen trees and the horses have moved back on the citrus farm full time. Fertilizers, herbicides and insecticides, in themselves having unknown effects, cause lush growth of greenery and the horses are over grazing on super rich forage. This leads to obesity and laminitis, a severe hoof disease caused by imbalances in blood chemistry caused by rich feed. While they should be moving 15 to 20 miles a day to get enough to eat, they now only move four to five miles at most. This has led to further deterioration in hoof health. The hooves are overgrown, are not very tough, have many cracks, etc. all adding to the lameness problems. The mares' blood chemistry is affected by the constant infections, and they cannot bear the additional weight of gestation.
Two more horses were lost this year, and as so many times before, these deaths could most likely have been prevented if adequate facilities for protection and treatment of the horses had been available. The mare Atria died last spring after both her fore hooves became infected. She was put in a holding pen and given antibiotics, but we simply did not have the facilities to put her on 24 hour IV treatment for dehydration and continuous medication.
Sometime in September the stallion Aldebaran was lost. His death was not discovered until nearly two months later. Project Manager Rehor was off the island at the time and back up observation failed to note the injured horse. One farm worker indicated that the horse was seen to be ill on a Friday and was dead by the following Monday. It is assumed that since Aldebaran's mare Atria had died he was starting to fight again to try to get another mare. It is likely that he died from fight injuries. If the stallions were in an area separate from the mares, and if breeding was controlled this death too might have ben averted.
Equine Reproduction Expert Dr. Gary Garcia inspected the horses with Agriculture Officer David Knowles in October, and his report was submitted and copies delivered to concerned officials. The main point of the report is that if the horses are not removed to a reserve of their own where their food intake can be monitored and appropriate care delivered, they are doomed to extinction because the mares hoof problems are preventing reproduction.
The stallion Hadar was observed, in August, to have a grotesquely enlarged penis. This could have been the result of an injury, or tail hairs wrapping around and constricting the organ. Due to lack of facilities, though we were able to raise money and purchase a dart rifle, (he is elusive, at best) we were unable to tranquilize and treat him. Rehor was due to leave the island, the appropriate tranquilizers were unavailable on short notice, and there was no way to keep Hadar safe while he would be under treatment. He is surviving, but at some point in the future he really must be treated.
On the bright side:
Arkwild received a $2200 grant from the Humane Society of the US and Humane Society International which allowed us to get much needed supplies and services. These funds were disbursed as follows:
66.43 for canine bait for live trapping
93.00 autopsy on Atria
254.23 blow pipe darts and supplies
125.00 hoof care assistance from Gene Hazelieff
280.00 four DNA analysis from Germany
75.75 general small meds for field use
63.90 co2 cartridges for dart rifle
838.19 towards cost of dart rifle (1547.53)
Many reports and a formal proposal have been submitted to the Department of Agriculture for the establishment of an emergency preserve for the horses.
Arkwild, Inc. was invited to submit a request for a grant from the Negley Flinn Foundation in late December. We were honored to receive a grant that will cover the cost of putting an electric fence around the requested preserve area, and the cost of a container and some supplies which will be the beginning of the long needed clinic.
With the assistance of Frank Bell, a professional Horse Whisperer, we achieved a probable world first in the treatment of wild horses. On two consecutive days we were able to approach the mare Nunki, who was severely lame, and give her heavy shots of penicillin with no restraint whatsoever. (Rehor has been able to approach and touch all but one of the mares for over a year now). With careful approach, and with Bell's expertise, the mare was approached, soothed and calmed and she never even twitched though the needle was an inch and a half long, large gauge, and penicillin can sting. It was a wonderful change from the use of the blowpipe which, while low impact, still frightens the horse being darted, and then the dart must be retrieved. We are deeply gratified to prove that wild creatures can be handled in this gentle and humane way. Last summer Rehor herself was able to treat two severe cases of 'fly scratch" (infection, suppuration and scabbing of fly bites) on the udders of two mares by approaching, talking, and applying appropriate ointments. The mares accepted the treatment and healed.
Twice weekly observation of the horses continued, with more time being allowed by farm management whenever a horse was in need of daily treatment.
Safety guidelines for people and school children looking at the horses were developed in conjunction with the Department of Agriculture.
Much time was spent coordinating a hoof care clinic that would have brought seven experts to Abaco in June to care for the hooves of the wild horses. Unfortunately, extremely bad thunderstorms forced cancellation of the clinic because airline flights were canceled.
Ms. Dawn Lomar came to Abaco to see the horses and to photograph them. Her detailed, illustrated article appears in the 2002 Bahamas Handbook.
The ASPCA magazine, "Animal Watch" will be carrying an article and photos about the horses in the March, 2002 issue.
Much closer liaison with the Department of Agriculture has developed, monthly reports on the state of the horses are being filed with Agriculture and relations with the farm continue to be cordial and supportive.
Our bookshop and donation center, a Buck a Book, moved into a donated 20' container after the building it had been in was scheduled for renovation. We moved next to a pet shop. The 'box' was scrubbed inside and painted, holes sealed and the roof was tarred and covered with roofing material. Insulation was fastened to the outside and we increased trade. Volunteers helped build shelves and get books sorted. In the spring we moved again, this time to a rent free location closer to the heart of town. Final shelves were installed, damage from Hurricane Michelle repaired, and the book shop continues to serve the community and support the horses.
Our web site was given a major upgrade with the addition of on line purchase capabilities, on line donation service and connection to a major online mall which returns a portion of purchases made through our site back to Arkwild, Inc. We also are now listed with a service which provides information about Arkwild to anyone wishing to consider Arkwild, Inc. in a bequest.
Despite the aftermath of 9/11, we are moving ahead strongly and hope that this will be the year that sees the horses returned to their normal habitat with a resultant decrease in hoof problems, increase in overall health, and increasing successful pregnancies.