Wildlife experts: “Swamp Cancer” could effect foaling season

CHINCOTEAGUE ISLAND, Va. – The deadly Swamp Cancer that’s claimed the lives of several ponies this past year could have an impact on breeding season.

About three months ago, the last of the seven affected and famous Chincoteague ponies passed away after a brief and difficult battle with the disease.

Michael Dixon, Supervisory Park Ranger at the Chincoteague Island National Refuge said, “We all love horses and we care about their safety and concern.”

For park rangers, it’s been a challenging time and things won’t get any easier as we head into “foaling season”.

Dixon said, “In the springtime, the foals are born and the heard size can increase from 130 to over 200.”

Dixon says the deadly disease, known throughout the scientific world as pithiosis or a fungus that grows on plants, could affect that – and suggests that the herd won’t increase as much as it has in years past.

Dixon said, “When the plants are submerged under water it releases zoospores.”

Dixon claims the zoospores are a concern for any animal that swims with an open cut.

But for now at least, the growth of the herd is the only concern and the Chincoteague Volunteer Fire Company who also watches over the horses claims they have yet to receive a report in 2019 of horse deaths relating to swamp cancer.

While they’re haven’t been any deaths this year, the refuge tells us they’re still making every effort to help the fire department keep a close eye on the horses.

Dixon said, “We will work with them to try and reduce exposure.”

To reduce exposure, they tell us they will minimize heard size as well as block off areas where the fungus is present.

While there is no known cure for the disease, they will continue to monitor the horses as we head into the warmer months.

Categories: Local News, Maryland