Cape Hatteras seeks ideas for horse management plan

Citing sea level rise and NPS policies, park officials hope for public input regarding the Ocracoke 'Bankers'

MANTEO, N.C.—Officials at Cape Hatteras National Seashore (Seashore) announced May 6 that they will seek input on the development of a management plan for the park’s horses, known as “Bankers,” at a May 21 public meeting on Ocracoke Island.

Image from NPS website

“In light of sea level rise effects and in consideration of National Park Service management policies, the Seashore is preparing to develop a management plan for the Ocracoke horses and seeks assistance in identifying issues, concerns and opportunities,” the news release reads. The purpose of the public meeting, scheduled for 1-2 pm on the 21st at the Ocracoke Community Center, is to receive preliminary input in advance of the plan’s development.

Once a range of ideas are received and refined through the preliminary public meeting, the Seashore expects to move to the next phase. This will include formal public meetings associated with the environmental review process.

History of the ‘Bankers’

The “Banker” horses are so named because Ocracoke Island is part of the Outer Banks, a group of barrier islands off the coast of North Carolina. Legend has it that they were left there by shipwrecked explorers in the 16th or 17th century. As the Cape Hatteras National Seashore website explains, “European ships commonly carried livestock to the New World, and if a ship ran aground near the coast, animals were thrown overboard to lighten the load, so the ship could be re-floated. The livestock were often left behind when the ship again set sail.”

These horses, also called “Ocracoke ponies,” have been documented on Ocracoke Island since the first European settlers arrived in the 1730s. According to the website, “They’ve played a major role in the island’s history, serving residents as beasts of burden at work and play, in beach rides and races.

“In the late 1950s, Ocracoke Boy Scouts cared for the horses and had the only mounted troop in the nation. By law, the free-roaming animals were penned in 1959 to prevent over-grazing and to safeguard them from traffic after the highway was built in 1957.”

Today’s members of the Banker herd reportedly enjoy 188 acres of fenced-off beach and marsh as well as paddocks and stables. They have been in the care of the National Park Service since the early 1960s.

Information Review

Also from the park’s website:

“Under contract with Outer Banks Forever, researchers Kent Redford, a conservation practitioner and scientist with Archipelago Consulting, and Elaine Leslie, retired chief of biological resources for the National Park Service, published an information review of the Ocracoke horse herd that provides a brief history and analysis of horses in North America, on the East Coast, and in the park, along with a summary of National Park Service laws, regulations and policies relevant to horses at Cape Hatteras National Seashore.

“Results of the information review, along with all other information and input, may be used to help inform future management of the Ocracoke horse herd. The report does not necessarily reflect the views of the National Park Service. View the information review of the Ocracoke horse herd, published March 2024.”

To learn more about the Seashore’s horse herd, visit: go.nps.gov/ocracokehorses.

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