New Vaccine Offers Hope in Chincoteague Ponies’ Battle Against Swamp Cancer
by Alex Fox/Smithsonianmag.com
A herd of shaggy wild ponies has gallivanted around the Chincoteague National Wildlife Refuge on Assateague Island for roughly 400 years. But while the famously hardy ponies have survived centuries of nor’easters and hurricanes, a new threat has the herd’s fans and custodians worried.
A strange, deadly ailment called swamp cancer started ravaging the barrier island’s pony population three years ago, reports Pamela A. D’Angelo for the Washington Post. Swamp cancer tends to infect cuts and abrasions, turning them into open lesions that deepen and spread across the body.
Since 2017, seven ponies have been laid low by the disease, caused by a fungus-like microorganism called Pythium insidiosum. An eighth pony thought to be infected with the disease was euthanized in July 2019, but the diagnosis has yet to be confirmed, according to Julia Rentsch of Delmarva Now.
Last year, the Chincoteague Volunteer Fire Company—the organization that owns and cares for the ponies—started testing a vaccine against swamp cancer in hopes of safeguarding the roughly 160 ponies living at the refuge. The treatment is still in early stages, but it appears to be working, spokeswoman Denise Bowden tells D’Angelo for a separate WVTF radio story.