The wild horses of Cumberland Island have been suddenly thrust into the spotlight. A lawsuit was filed in the U.S. District Court in Atlanta against the National Park Service, (Horses v Haaland et al.) seeking to force them to remove the wild horses from the island.
The Cumberland Island wild horses have existed on the island for five hundred years. Approximately 150 wild horses live on the 36,415-acre island. Marshland, mud flats and tidal creeks make up 16,850 acres of the island.
The first known introduction of horses to Cumberland Island was in the 1500s when a Spanish mission was established there. Since then, horses have stayed as domestic stock. By the late 1700s, horses were reported to be living in wild populations.
A few attempts were made to diversify the population. In the early 1900s, a group of free-roaming mustangs from Arizona were released onto the island. Several other breeds of horses have been introduced as well, the most recent being four Arabians.
The plaintiffs associated with the lawsuit want the horses removed from the island via fertility control and captures. Unfortunately, it is possible that the horses that are captured will end up in worse situations than what they currently have. Those horses would also go through a lot of stress. It would be better to allow the horses to live on the island and enhance their lives there so they can thrive.
While the plaintiffs argue that the horses suffer due to a lack of forage on the island, it seems very probable that the horses' greatest need is minerals. One mineral that aids in digestion and is crucial for pregnant and lactating mares is selenium, which is the mineral that Georgia is most deficient in. Other minerals like calcium, copper, and zinc are critically needed by these wild horses, as shown by their unhealthy coats, inability to chew food properly, and a low immune system. According to www.FeedXL.com, one symptom of horses with mineral deficiencies is weight loss or inability to gain weight. There are many areas for the horses to graze, which makes one wonder if there really is a lack of forage.
The plaintiffs also claim that the wild horses are destroying the island. However, many scientists and researchers call Cumberland Island “pristine” “well-preserved” “a paradise,” and more. The horses have lived on this island for hundreds of years. They are now a part of the ecosystem and directly affect the island’s health, whether good or bad.
Islands and oceans are connected. The environment on the island will affect the environment of the ocean. Coral reefs signify a healthy ecosystem and there are many reefs around Cumberland Island. Additionally, whales depend on specific environmental conditions to live. The waters around Cumberland Island are common breeding and birthing grounds for the North Atlantic right whale.
A recent study by Scripps Institute of Oceanography/UC San Diego reports, “Research shows that islands with high seabird populations, for example, which feed in the open ocean and bring large quantities of nutrients to island ecosystems through their guano deposits, are associated with larger fish populations, faster-growing coral reefs, and increased rates of coral recovery from climate change impacts.” Cumberland Island National Seashore is home to more than 322 species of birds and is widely known for hosting such a large number.
Could it be possible that the horses are helping the island? It is becoming more popular to believe that grazing by large animals, like horses, is beneficial to the ecosystem and enhances biological diversity. A study conducted in Sweden showed that the horses' grazing "increased the diversity of pasture nutrient content" and that "energy and protein concentrations and grass availability increased in areas grazed by horses, but decreased where grass was mown". A study by Rutgers University showed that -- when properly managed -- horses' manure can improve soil quality. The study also stated, "The organic matter present in manure can improve both tilth and water-holding capacity of the soil".
Horses have lived on Cumberland Island for hundreds of years as domestic stock and wildlife. They are now a part of the island’s history. Please help by signing and sharing the petition I created (www.change.org/savecumberlandshorses) and stay informed through my website, www.mustangmission.blogspot.com, as I work to create a better future for the horses of Cumberland Island. Let’s make sure they remain on the island for many years to come!
Co-owner of Joyful Acres Farm