HARKERS ISLAND, N.C. (WAVY) – A group of visitors has been cited after officials say they removed a foal from its natural habitat on Shackleford Banks.

Officials say the incident occurred on March 26 when the group encountered the foal in the Wade Shore area. The foal followed the group for about two hours as there were no horses around.

According to the park’s Wildlife Biologist, Dr. Sue Stuska, a foal, for a short period early in its life, will instinctively follow its dam (mother) without necessarily knowing which creature she is. When separated, the foal will follow other horses or even people.

When the visitors moved to their boat to leave the island the foal tried to follow them. With the best of intentions, thinking that the foal would drown, they lifted the foal into the boat and departed, thereby removing the horse from its natural habitat, its mother, and the herd.

Orphan foal (Courtesy – National Park Service)

Once a foal has been removed from the seashore, it is unlikely that the park can reunite it with its mother.

The foal can’t be returned to Shackleford Banks and will now live a life as a domesticated animal, rather than as a wild stallion.

The visitors have since been cited for removing the horse from Shackleford Banks

March is the beginning of foaling season on Shackleford Banks, a part of Cape Lookout National Seashore which along with its wildlife, is federally protected. Visitors observing strange animal behaviors may call the park visitor center or 911 to report to park staff.

Visitors should not approach closer than 50-feet to any wildlife in the park.

The foal is now in the care of the Foundation for Shackleford Horses.