Park rangers reported that an 18-year-old Assateague Island wild horse was struck and killed by a 70-year-old motorist this past weekend.
The Assateague wild horses are one of the biggest attractions in the Ocean City area. Every year, tens of thousands of people come to observe one of the east coast’s largest wild horse herds. This past weekend, however, one of those wild horses was struck and killed by a 2005 Honda Element, being driven by a 70-year-old woman from Silver Spring, Maryland.
Park Rangers reported that the deceased horse’s name was Jester and he was identifiable by the discoloration and markings on his forehead that resembled a question mark. He was roaming on State Highway 611 — the main road into Assateague — when he was struck and killed.
“That was Jester’s home range,” said Assateague Chief Ranger Walt West in a statement. “For many people, Jester would have been one of the first horses they would have seen upon entering the park.”
It is unclear at this point what caused the crash, but Jester is now the 31st wild horse to be struck and killed by an automobile on Assateague Island since they started recording the statistic in 1982.
Assateague’s wild horse herd has baffled historians for years. Many suspect that the herd came to live on Assateague Island many years ago for a very simple reason: tax evasion. Traditionally, Maryland farmers and ranchers were taxed according to how many heads of animals they had within their fenced properties. It is believed that in order to avoid paying this tax, ranchers and farmers brought their livestock to Assateague Island to graze. Since there was no fence, they were not required to pay the tax and the horses were still relatively safe and prevented from just wandering off the island.
Today, the island is divided by the Virginia-Maryland state line. A fence now separates the island’s horses into the Assateague and Chincoteague herds, though genetic samples show that the two herds of horses once made up a single herd. The herd on Assateague Island has 79 wild horses.
With the peak tourist season over, Assateague Island gets fewer visitors in the fall and winter months than they do in the summertime. New technologies make it easier than ever to digitally monitor what the wild horses are up to, both on and off the island. For example, this past summer, the Assateague Island Alliance released a cell phone application to help visitors identify the horses they spot on the island.
“There are a number of people who keep up with the horses remotely who many do not get a chance to visit,” West said, “this ripple goes through a number of communities.”
Investigators say that at this point, charges against the female driver have not been filed, though they stress that the investigation is still not completed. After the accident, the motorist stayed at the scene and waited for rangers to arrive.