"COROLLA, N.C. — Retired Washington, D.C., police Officer E.T. Smith patrolled the beach in his four-wheel-drive truck on a recent morning, keeping an eye out for wild mustangs and the drunks who like to harass them.
The horses have survived on this narrow barrier island for some 500 years, thought to be descendants of Colonial mounts that swam to shore when Spanish galleons ran aground on the shoals and sandbars of North Carolina’s Outer Banks. They’ve withstood centuries of hurricanes and nor’easters on this isolated spit of sand, marsh and woods, and became a huge draw for visitors.
But the horses now face serious threats, say those who manage the herd: a boom in McMansion-style vacation homes on this once-pristine stretch of coast and federal policies that are leaving the mustangs severely inbred and starting to suffer from genetic deformities."