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Baby wild ponies are vanishing from Grayson Highland State Park in Virginia

Baby wild ponies are facing predator attacks resulting in deaths and injuries. This nursing baby died from an attack. (Jerry Ward)
Baby wild ponies are facing predator attacks resulting in deaths and injuries. This nursing baby died from an attack. (Jerry Ward)
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"They're vanishing," Jerry Ward said on the phone. He was talking about the baby wild ponies going missing at Grayson Highland State Park and the surrounding area.

Caring for the wild ponies at the park is hard work--a job Ward, president of the Wilburn Ridge Pony Association, is passionate about.

The pony association owns and manages the wild ponies in the Grayson Highland State Park area.

But the responsibility of managing the ponies has become much more difficult and frustrating over the past few days. Baby wild ponies are disappearing from the state park and the several thousand acres of National Forest lands the ponies live on.

Ward thinks there are several options for what the culprit is for the vanishings, but behind each possibility is a dangerous wild animal.

"Could be a bear, [mountain] lion, pack of coyotes," Ward said, voicing his frustration with the situation. Bobcats could also be responsible.

On April 26, the wild ponies took more public spotlight than usual when the Grayson County Sheriff's Office shared a photo of one of their deputies holding an injured pony in his arms.

Ward said they named the pony "Bear" because of the bite marks that caused the injury. But while Bear's rescue picture is heartwarming, it needs the additional context of what's actually happening to the ponies.

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Ward described riding with his daughter to check on the ponies a few days ago and how she started crying when she saw how many colts were missing. Some of the attacked ponies are lucky and escape with injuries. More than a few didn't make it and are gone.

At least five of the baby ponies he saw days ago have since disappeared. Ward said they often weigh only 80 pounds and don't even come up to his waist. That size would be easy for a bear or mountain lion to attack, as the handful of missing baby ponies clearly suggests. But Ward worries the predator won't just stop at the wild ponies.

"It's gonna run out of ponies eventually," Ward said. "It's only a matter of time before it's someone's pet or child."

He only took over as president of the pony association in June 2022 and some aspects of the management have been a learning curve. But his own determination is something that hasn't wavered at all.

"I'm not feeding the wildlife with ponies," he said.

Finding and rescuing injured ponies is already hard enough, and he's desperate for help with neutralizing the predator or predators responsible for the attacks. That solution isn't pretty but he doesn't see any other options as the ponies continue to go missing.

He's been working to find assistance with getting rid of the predator, and so far he said the National Forest responded back to him. Although he couldn't say what exactly they were planning, he did say they were working on legal steps to move forwards.

The Virginia Department of Conservation and Recreation said due to recent bad weather the ponies may have moved to a more inaccessible area.

ABC13 has reached out to multiple other agencies to learn more information. We will edit this story if we receive any updates.

Follow the Wilburn Ridge Pony Association HERE on Facebook for a closer look at the wild ponies.

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