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PRI's Environmental News Magazine

Almanac: Chincoteague ponies

Air Date: Week of July 27, 2001

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This week, facts about Chincoteague ponies. It's the annual Pony Penning on the islands of Assateague and Chincoteague, off the coast of Virginia.

Transcript

CURWOOD: It's Living On Earth. I'm Steve Curwood.

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CURWOOD: The history of the wild ponies of Chincoteague Island is still a bit of a mystery. Legend has it that a 16th century Spanish galleon capsized off the coast of Virginia. Its cargo of ponies somehow managed to escape to the nearby islands of Assateague and Chincoteague. But others say penny pinching Virginians on the mainland kept their horses on the islands to avoid paying a 17th century fencing tax. Well, no matter how they got there, this last band of wild horses east of the Rocky Mountains has made the Chincoteague National Wildlife Refuge its home.

They've adapted to the coarse vegetation, and in a squeeze they're even known to eat poison ivy. In fact, the ponies have survived so well that their population must be kept at 150, the maximum number that the Refuge can support. So, every year in late July, local volunteer fire fighters pose as saltwater cowboys and stage a roundup for the annual pony penning. When low tide comes, the cowboys lead the herd across the channel from Assateague to Chincoteague. The next day, the foals are sold at auction to a lucky few who adopt them as pets or for show. Last year, 84 ponies sold for between $2,000 and $7,500 each. And that ain't hay. And for this week, that's the Living On Earth Almanac.

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