Lawsuit seeks to remove Cumberland Island's wild horses


Cumberland Island’s famous wild horses have lawyered up.

Driving the news: Animal rights groups and a Cumberland homeowner have filed a federal lawsuit against the National Park Service and the state of Georgia seeking to remove Cumberland’s feral horses from the barrier island.

  • The suit lists the horses as lead plaintiffs and alleges that their presence has both damaged Cumberland’s ecosystem — and has made for “less-than-humane” conditions for the horses themselves.

Catch up quick: Cumberland Island, largely owned and managed by the National Park Service, has had horses for centuries. The current stock dates to the island’s previous owners, the Carnegies, who brought horses over in the 1880s to pull carriages, hunt and more.

  • By the time Cumberland became a National Park in 1972, the horses had become feral, according to the NPS.

Why it matters: The estimated 140 to 170 feral horses are the only unmanaged herd on the Atlantic coast — not given food, water, veterinary care or population control. The island does not have, plaintiffs argue, an adequate supply of food and fresh water to keep the horses healthy on their own.

What’s happening: As beautiful as the horses appear in the landscape, the NPS itself has been clear about the non-native animals’ negative effect on the island and habitat for other native species (eating up to 98% of the vegetation in areas they frequent) and their poor quality of life.

  • Cumberland’s horses, the NPS reports, live just 9-10 years due to parasites, drought, accidents and diseases. (A horse’s average lifespan is 25-30 years.)

Threat level: Plaintiffs say that at this point, the horses have inflicted “serious harm” to the island and must be removed.

The other side: The state DNR and NPS declined to comment citing the pending litigation.