CHINCOTEAGUE, Va. (Delmarva Now) — Rain Dancer, one of seven Chincoteague ponies with 'swamp cancer,' died Monday. She is the second pony to die of the disease in 2018.
The disease, which is not a proper cancer but rather something similar to a fungus, came to the public's attention after the fall pony roundup in mid-October. The Chincoteague Volunteer Fire Company, which cares for the ponies, has been working with experts from around the country to battle the disease ever since.
"This baby just couldn't kick it and developed some ligament and tendon issues related to this disease," Denise Bowden, spokesperson for the fire company, wrote in a Facebook post.
Swamp cancer as an illness is notoriously hard for veterinarians to treat. Very little is known about the disease, and while recent science shows it is curable, it can be expensive and difficult to treat.
What is known about swamp cancer is that it originates from Pythium insidiosum, an oomycete (similar to a fungus) that typically lives in plants that grow near water. When those plants are wet or are submerged in water, they release zoospores into the water.
Those zoospores can spread infection by getting into small holes on an animal's body, such as a mosquito bite. It can affect large animals as well as humans, but the disease has a low infection rate. Once infected, however, horses have a hard time kicking the disease.
Bowden writes those tasked with caring for the ponies "basically put their lives on hold attending to" them. The vet is visiting the ponies every other day.
A Nov. 26 update on the fire company's Facebook page said that while things appeared to be going well for the ponies, they were not out of the woods yet. Bowden reported the ponies had some secondary swelling.
Essie, the other pony to die of swamp cancer this year, was also young -- she died at only five years old.
Rain Dancer was a buyback pony, meaning someone purchased her as part of Chincoteague's famous pony swim and auction but she was donated back to the island after the event so she could live out her life there. Her buyback owner has been notified.
The database lists Rain Dancer's full name as Kachina's Shenandoah Raindancer. She is described as a palomino female with brown eyes, and she was seen for the first time at the end of June.