Chincoteague Fire Department warns of dangers of trying to interact with ponies on Assateague

July 17, 2023

The Chincoteague Volunteer Fire Company posted a warning on Facebook concerning visitors getting out of boats and trying to get closer to wild ponies on Assateague.

“After increased tourism the southern herd of ponies has continuously been the focus of many Ecological and Nature Tours. Somehow, somewhere, the rules and regulations have either been forgotten or shrugged off because of lack of enforcement.

“COMMERCIAL Business or recreational visitors  may not “land” – get out of- their boats ANYWHERE within the confines of the Chincoteague National Wildlife Refuge. There is one small area where recreational boaters may “land” their vessels while adhering to laws and boundaries set forth from USFWS. This has become an ever increasing problem with people thinking it is okay to get out of kayaks, boats, etc. and approach the ponies in the remainder of the pasture. We have been through this struggle before which resulted in fencing the ponies away from the general unknowing public access to safeguard the ponies from harm. This has become such a problem that if the badgering of the ponies is done only as a means of profit with no regard for their safety or the laws that govern everyone WE WILL BE FORCED TO REMOVE PONIES FROM THE SOUTHERN PASTURE.

“The ponies have been wild for hundreds of years and thrive best when humans stay in their lane and leave them alone. It is unimaginable that “tour guides” who are giving information to unknowing visitors have the ignorance to continually break the rules. With support from USFWS we are erecting signage in key places from the Lighthouse to Little Beach advising the law as it pertains to commercial or recreational vessels of all shapes and sizes.

“We are not asking a lot, just follow the rules and things can continue as they have for years. Be aware of environmental factors like wind, tide, storms, and distance travelled if you are in a kayak. Breaking the law because the tide is down and you can’t see the ponies from your kayak is not an acceptable excuse. Neither is getting out to use the ponies as a backdrop for photos or an educational tour. One of the largest offenses that can occur is physically touching the Ponies, they are WILD, ask our vets or our cowboys how many of the ponies have kicked or bitten them. If ponies approach and show interest please leave them be to their natural behaviors very seldom do they interact with people through their own devices.

“We are so glad that so many people want to visit Chincoteague and see the Ponies but there are businesses out there who are misinforming and misleading visitors just to make a quick buck all while disobeying regulations if it means they can make more money or say they saw ponies. We ask people to be vigilant and smart about who, when, and where they kayak with not only for your safety on the water but your potential legal repercussions. Your “guide” or personal venture into the southern pasture may be your ticket to a fine or potential jail time.

“One last bit of information regards the trails on the CNWR, you may NOT leave the trails such as the Woodland Trail to get a better look at the ponies in the marsh unless it is a specified viewing area. We often see people walk out in the marsh unbothered because it is a better view, the same goes for the Northern Service Road.”

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