One of the best-known wild horses roaming North Carolina’s Outer Banks was found dead on a beach over the weekend, and experts suspect heat may have been a factor.
Hazel, as the horse was known, was believed to be nearly 30 years old.
Her death comes when some areas of the Outer Banks have had a daily heat index near 110 degrees, according to the National Weather Service.
“Hazel lived and died as every wild horse should — free, and on her own terms,” herd manager Meg Puckett wrote in a Facebook post.
“We will miss seeing her on the beach but take comfort in knowing she lived a great life and left a huge mark on the herd. She was laid to rest near Penny’s Hill, where she spent all of her 20+ years. Rest easy, Hazel.”
Wild horses endure countless hardships on the Outer Banks, including a lack of fresh water, hurricanes and limited food options. There are about 100 free roaming horses in the Corolla herd and they have adapted to eat sea oats, persimmons, acorns and other course grasses native to the islands.
Hazel made headlines this summer when it was discovered her frequent disappearances were tied to an unexpected habit: She would seek newborn horses in different areas of Swan Beach and “babysit” them.
“She seemed to enjoy her role as honorary grandmother to the foals, and could be seen babysitting while their moms grazed and rested,” Puckett wrote.
“We have identified several offspring and relatives of Hazel’s, and expect to find more as we continue to collect DNA samples from the herd.”
A specific cause of death was not released, but “there were no signs of trauma or any indication that she didn’t pass naturally,” Puckett said.
“We had noticed that she’d been slowing down some lately. The heat has been really hard on the older horses,” she said.
Wild horses on the Outer Banks often meet tragic ends. A number have been killed in recent years in traffic accidents, while others have choked on foods given to them by tourists. Foods such as apples and carrots are deadly, because they get lodged in the horses’ throats, experts say.
Hazel’s original mate, Amadeo, had to be removed from the wild during a rescue operation. In recent years, she had been adopted by another harem, headed by a stallion named Junior and his mares, Anne Bonny and June. The group was often seen between Mile Posts 16 and 17 in the Corolla area, Puckett said.