Cumberland Island is the only barrier island in Georgia with feral horses. Despite their popularity with tourists, they have caused serious damage to the island’s native ecosystem.
Thriving in a non-native environment is difficult for these grassland mammals; their flowing manes and long-haired tails can be deadly in vine-tangled forests, where they are snared and held until death.
Open expanses of salt marsh may seem potentially hospitable, but the weight of a horse is distributed on four small points that offer very little support in its soft mud. Once a horse sinks belly-deep, escape is unlikely; the tide, however, is inevitable. Many have drowned, held fast by the mud.
The National Park Service does not produce annual reports on the horse population (including any encephalitis data), or offer any reports related to staff or visitor injuries. However, it does estimate the herd’s population hovers between 150-200 animals.
In 2016, the NPS did release a brochure to educate the public on some aspects of the horses.
The “wild” horses of Cumberland Island may be a romantic notion for visitors, but they threaten the very ecosystems that create it.
The National Park Service does not produce any reports on the horse population (including encephalitis), or offer any data related to staff or visitor injuries.
We’re often contacted by visitors who have witnessed damage to the island’s ecosystem, or blatant disregard of policy protections. We encourage you to report these to the National Park Service and also complete this form.
Thank you for your respectful stewardship of Cumberland Island.