(Nov. 8, 2019) The Assateague Island Alliance installed its final food storage table for its “A Fed Horse is a Dead Horse” project not quite a month ago, and will now be implementing its new “Keep it Zipped” program to encourage guests to bring zippered coolers to prevent unhealthy snacking by the wild animals on the island.

As more tourists entered Assateague Island over the years, horses have begun to associate humans with food and have had easy access to unattended or open bags of food in years past.

storage

Eric Sherry, chief of maintenance of the Assateague Island National Seashore, demonstrates how to store food properly in one of 222 food storage picnic tables set up throughout the island.

There have been several incidences where horses that got into human food became sick or even died, which spurred the organization to develop several projects to protect the horses and humans alike.

“It’s not intuitive to everyone … they haven’t been thinking about how to keep food away from horses for years,” said Assateague Island Alliance Outreach Coordinator Ashlie Kozlowski. “

The “Fed Horse is a Dead Horse” program first took off toward the end of 2017, as the alliance began installing food storage tables to lock out wild animals. Now, there are 222 food storage tables located on the island so tourists and campers can protect their food from wandering ponies.

The goal of the “Fed Horse is a Dead Horse” education initiative is a positive behavior change in the wild horses and park visitors. By providing visitors with the information and tools they need to store food properly, the organization hopes horses will begin to disassociate humans with food. Likewise, park visitors will be able to have a safe experience and be able to store food easily and properly during a trip to Assateague.

Since the “Fed Horse is a Dead Horse” project has been completed, the organization can focus on its new project; “Keep it Zipped,” which will require tourists and other visitors to the islands to use zippered food containers instead of traditional coolers.

“The whole reason why ‘Keep it Zipped’ came about is because if people use zippered cooler bags, the horses can’t get inside,” said Kozlowski. “Basically what we’re trying to do is educate the public before they get to the park, because right now all of our educational information and solutions are inside the park. If you don’t have what you need before you get to the park, then you keep having to keep your food locked in your vehicle instead of taking it to the beach.”

In addition to these efforts, the organization will provide information cards that explain how to use the food storage benches.

Guests who bring in traditional coolers can still protect their food and the horses by receiving a cooler strap from Assateague Island Alliance.

While these initiatives are being used to protect the horses, Assateague Island Alliance still requests visitors, campers and other guests to remain cautious while they are on the island, especially when disposing their waste products.

“Discard your trash immediately,” Kozlowski said. “I’ve seen people at the beach where they’re there for the whole entire day. You can properly store your food all you want, but if you’re throwing pizza crust and leftover hamburgers and hot dogs into a trash bag, then the horses are still going to be able to access it.”

The organization hopes these projects and reminders will be able to prevent horse illnesses or deaths as a result of human food and to keep park visitors safe from bites and kicks. 

Assateague Island Alliance was formed on Jan. 1, 2008 as the only non-profit Friends Group organization to promote the awareness and protection of Assateague Island National Seashore’s wildlife and natural resources for the enjoyment of current and future generations.

For more information about Assateague Island Alliance or its programs, visit www.assateagueislandalliance.org or call 443-614-3547.

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