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'Aggressive' horse moved off Assateague Island, sent to Texas wildlife sanctuary

The National Park Service said the horse known as Chip was highly food conditioned and would pursue park visitors.

BERLIN, Md. — Editor's Note: The video above originally aired in July 2019. 

An Assateague Island horse has been removed from the island after the animal became aggressive and attacked park visitors for human food.

The National Park Service (NPS) said the horse, named Delegate's Pride, aka "Chip," was removed from the Assateague Island National Seashore in Maryland on Monday, May 2.

Liz Davis with NPS said the harem stallion had become increasingly aggressive toward park visitors and staff when pursuing human food or when park staff attempted to redirect him or his band away from crowded visitor areas like camp grounds and parking areas.

Since 2017, Chip has been involved in more than 50% of all incidents which have resulted in injury to visitors, according to Davis and the NPS. Davis said the stallion became "extremely resistant" to non-contact methods used by park staff to move horses out of potentially dangerous situations. 

For those reasons, Davis said Delegate's Pride will be permanently relocated to the Cleveland Amory Black Beauty Ranch in Murchison, Texas, a renowned wildlife sanctuary.

Credit: NPS

The National Park Service said certain individual horses and bands in the Maryland herd are continuing to associate humans with food and rewards. Unafraid horses can easily become food conditioned when they receive food from visitors. This can be both intentional and unintentional, through improper food storage, the park service said.

Reversing behavior once a wild animal has learned to associate people with food is extremely difficult, Davis said. 

"Removal often becomes the only option to manage a highly food conditioned animal, especially one causing the majority of negative and dangerous interactions with the public. We do not take these decisions lightly, but occasionally it is necessary for the safety of visitors and staff," the National Park Service said in a release.

Following Chips removal, Davis said updated food storage regulations will soon be in place.

Campers can only store food in a vehicle or in a strapped cooler placed inside the food storage box provided by the NPS under all picnic tables. Assateague Island National Seashore replaced all picnic tables in the fall of 2019 with new tables specifically designed with horse-proof food storage compartments to hold standard-sized strapped coolers and hard-sided containers.

“All visitors need to take this food storage issue seriously and help us reduce the frequency of inappropriate interactions with the wild horses,” said Seashore Superintendent Hugh Hawthorne in a statement. “The free roaming nature of the Assateague horses is what makes them so unique and special, but there are also issues like this that need to be addressed.”

Assateague Island National Seashore urges all visitors to take a proactive role in protecting the wild horses by complying with all rules and regulations. For more information, click here.

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