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Feral animals are animals who were once domesticated but have since reverted to a wild, free. There are large populations of feral hogs and horses on Cumberland Island. The famed wild horses of Cumberland are not native to the island or even the continent. Therefore, they do not fit within the natural ecosystems and as a result, suffer immensely.
Feral horses trample and graze upon key indigenous plant species, often dramatically reducing or even eliminating their populations. Feral animals drastically alter the island habitat, in some instances threatening the very existence of fragile ecosystems such as the beach dunes.
Cumberland Island’s feral horses graze heavily on smooth cord grasses, the primary plant of the tidal areas on the mainland side of the island. Grazing reduces the density of the grasses in the marsh, which are vital for trapping and holding sediments. Erosion increases and the marsh is more easily damaged by storms.
As these large herbivores graze in these areas, their hooves compress and churn the soil, thereby impeding the marsh’s ability to regenerate. Marsh grazing also reduces the number of fiddler crabs, a critical species in the salt marsh ecosystem. Fiddler crabs, besides having a positive effect on Spartina grass production, are a valuable food source for many of the animals inhabiting this ecosystem. All species are affected by the heavy feet of horses. Mussels are simply smashed. Water quality is greatly diminished by horse waste products, and some island areas have been closed to shell fishing.
Feral horse impacts also threaten Cumberland Island’s dune system by reducing stabilizing plants such as sea oats. Other noted impacts include consumption of all Spanish moss within reach, negative effects on amphibians and reptile, competition for food and space with native animals, disruption of nesting sea turtles, disturbance of brooding shore birds, and damage to archeological sites and artifacts.
While the wild horses of Cumberland Island are a romantic attraction for visitors, they threaten the very ecosystems that make the island beautiful and provide homes for its huge diversity of native plant and animal species.
Please take action on this issue by sending this form letter to our National Park Service representatives