Chincoteague Loses Last Four "Swamp Cancer"-Infected Ponies

The latest swamp cancer cases sparked public concern after the October 2018 pony roundup. Photo: virginia.org

A deadly disease has taken the lives of four more Chincoteague ponies, according to the Chincoteague Volunteer Fire Company (CVFC), which maintains the herd of wild ponies.

In all, seven ponies were infected with the fungus commonly known as “swamp cancer.” Three had lost their fight by mid-December, and the four remaining infected ponies had to be put down at Christmastime.

Swamp cancer, or pythiosis, is a caused by an aquatic fungus that grows on plants growing near the water. It causes a skin infection with large, often deadly lesions. Animals can be infected by a break in the skin, like a wound, or even fly and insect bites.

The most recent cases publicly came to light during the October 2018 pony roundup, when concerned pony supporters started sending in extra donations to support the ponies’ medical care.

The Fire Company Pony Committee says its vet team has been on hand around the clock, making every effort to fight the fungus. It also consulted expert veterinarians nationwide, and got a number of medical opinions before deciding to humanely euthanize the infected ponies.

Pony Committee Member Denise Bowden posted on CVFV’s Facebook page:

“Shadow, Lightning, Calceti’n and Elusive Star as well as the others received the very best care money could buy. They had surgeries, more medicine than you can imagine, round the clock care and lots and lots of love and attention. They just couldn’t fight this off and before we let them suffer any more than they have been, we feel the right decision was made.”

Bowden says the one positive outcome of the tragedy is that veterinarians are working on developing a preventive vaccine for swamp cancer, which is now awaiting FDA approval. The Pony Committee holds out hope that it will be approved and the Chincoteague ponies can be vaccinated soon.

According to CVFC, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is looking into the fungus and how to eradicate it from Chincoteague.

Says Bowden, “This isn’t just a pony problem. It can affect any animal that comes in contact with it.”

-Meg Walburn Viviano