Walking Amongst The Wild
by: Davis Yancy Clegg
One of the more popular destinations for tourists and locals alike in our area is but a short ferry ride away. Cumberland Island plays host to the Greyfield Inn and all the splendor that surrounds. There are many attractions that can’t be avoided. The most impressive of these is definitely the wildlife. Cumberland is home to a band of wild horses. These feral creatures are responsible for much of the tourism and local visitation the Island receives.
The Cumberland Island horses have resided on the small Georgian Island for quite some time. The most popular belief is that the horses arrived on Cumberland Island sometime in the 1500′s. arguably, it is not very likely that any of the horses left on the island by the Spanish would have been able to survive. It is more likely that the current descendants come from horses that were brought over by the English in the 18th century. You may only see a few of the horses on any given visit. However, it should be noted that the total population on the island is somewhere between 150 and 200 horses. This number may seem large for a small island, but the horses on Cumberland are hindered by a somewhat short life expectancy. This can be accredited to all of the pest infestations, disease, and the rugged terrain they are forced to navigate daily.
There have been researchers studying the habits and environmental effects the horses cause since the 1980′s. The current number of horses has recently shown to have a negative effect on the state of things. Researchers whom are primarily focused on the environmental impact these horses have recommend a drastic decrease in the herd numbers. The other side of the argument is that the greater number of horses is needed to prevent inbreeding. However, researchers have yet to determine that the Cumberland Island herd’s genetic makeup is one that requires a special preservation effort.
Obviously, horses are not native to the island. It’s unclear whether the Spanish or English were the original group to bring horses to Cumberland Island. During the 19th century, strong efforts were made to capture the horses and put them to work. Robert Stafford was the plantation owner at this time. He would allow visitors to go out and capture the horses, and then purchase them. He called them “marsh tackies.” The next application the horses would be used for was as Calvary during the American Civil War. After the war had ended, it is rumored that residents on Jekyll Island would capture them for their meat.
In the late 1800′s, Thomas Carnegie bought two of the plantations on the island and introduced Tennessee Walking Horses, Paso Finos, and even Arabian horses into the mix to try and improve the animals. This spark an interest in horses for nearby residents, and many different kinds of horses were quickly brought in further diversifying the population. The National Park Service acquired the island in 1972 and they soon declared it the Cumberland Island National Seashore. Since it was dubbed such, there have been very few new horses that have been brought into the population. The National Park Service has been monitoring the horses since around 1981. Their main focus has been to study their impact on the environment and any habitat changes that might occur. Except for an outbreak of disease in 1991(where about 18 percent of the population was lost), the population has maintained its strength.
If you ever have the chance to visit Cumberland Island, I implore you to do so. It isn’t every day you can stand so close to something so wild and untamed. You will find that the island itself is only a small part of the reason people flock there religiously.
Until next time, Stay Salty friends.
Come join us on our most popular cruise; the Cumberland Island Tour to view the wild horses and other wildlife along the way.