Debate On Cumberland’s Native Horses: Will They Be Voted Off The Island?

By Sarah Knott

Wild horses that have roamed Cumberland Island for decades may soon be subject to population control. These charming creatures have been featured as a main attraction in Golden Isle travel brochures and magazines across the South, and for years tourists have come to see them. 

Contrary to popular belief, the horses on Cumberland Island are not descendants of the original Spanish equines brought to the colonies. Island residents, according to a UGA study, released these horses in 1949, and their population has been steadily growing ever since. This introduction of a species not native to the area caused a fight for resources with species like deer, a competition that still continues today. In addition, the horses have a very limited gene pool, resulting in disease and abnormalities. These factors have had a strong hand in leading the locals on the island to push for population control of the horses. 

With over 300 horses (many diseased) roaming around on the rather small island, it’s been made clear to locals that something must be done to control the population. Two options are completely out of the question: domesticating them or killing them. The horses are wild and could carry many diseases, so domestication won’t be considered, and killing them is off the table for obvious reasons. In the late 1990’s, many different measures were taken to look into population control, including a proposal to use contraceptive administered with a dart gun. This, however, lost funding due to complaints by the islanders, and the efforts to monitor reproduction and population expansion were mostly left untouched until recently. 

The options that are being considered as of late are unclear. The topic is still in the early stages of discussion and planning, but the idea of changing the horse population is having trouble gaining support. This lack of enthusiasm is likely caused by false information, including a rumor that the island wants to get rid of the horses completely. Hopefully locals will look into the matter and begin supporting ideas to help control the equine population and improve the health of the horses and other species living on Cumberland Island.