CUMBERLAND ISLAND, Ga. – It's a boat ride away from St. Mary's, Georgia, but if you go to Cumberland Island National Park, you'll see
a popular attraction: the more than 150 wild horses that are estimated to live there. The horses are all over this island, but they're not native and the belief is they're doing damage to the local ecosystem and may need to go.
The horses have been there in different numbers for centuries, but at some point, the horses were brought here. They're not native and the National Parks Service says they are doing damage to the park.
"This particular herd could possibly be removing in the neighborhood of 700,000 pounds of vegetation per year that would not normally be removed if they weren't here," explained wildlife biologist
Doug Hoffman, who works on the island. "It's not vegetation that could be replaced quickly one, and it's vegetation that other native species of wildlife would depend on for survival."
News4Jax drove through the park with Hoffman and he says this issue is one that has drawn concern to the island. There is criticism that some of the horses are malnourished, but he points out that average people don't understand these horses don't eat like their domestic counterparts.
"Say if we owned horses we'd be feeding them everyday. So they would be super fat. So these horses are acting like wild animals, so they're living off the land," Hoffman explained.
Gary Ingram, the Superintendent of Cumberland Island National Seashore says they have no plans underway to remove the horses. But, he did recently bring this up to a group of Camden County locals. They talked about options like removing the horses or fencing them in.
"People love those horses, not everybody does. There's another side
to this. There's another side to this, too. There's two sides. There's people that completely adore them and want us to feed them and take care of them and give them veterinary care, but we can't afford to do that. And then you have the other spectrum that think they have no business being on the island whatsoever. I think we need to find a proper balance," said Ingram.
Campers News4Jax spoke with don't want the horses removed.
" I think they need to stay because horses were wild before man domesticated them. It's part of island's history and I think they need to stay as long as they're not in danger," said visitors Chris and Kayla Cantrell.
"I think they horses belong here, they've always been here and there's plenty for them to eat as well as the other wildlife," added visitor Suzette Henderson.
There's been some debate on where the horses originally came from. It is believed they were first brought over by the Europeans in the 1700s, then their numbers went down considerably in the 1800s. But, they were brought back to the island by the Carnegie family in the 1900s.