Retired Bluewater District School Board (BWDSB) trustee, Marg Gaviller, recently shared her photos and research on the Horses of Sable Island and her Journey Back to Newfoundland with the Owen Sound Field Naturalists (OSFN).
“The Sable Island horses, were originally domestic animals and the herd of some 500 are now the main occupants of the Island,” said Gaviller. “They roam freely in the natural environment without human interference. These feral horses are, indeed a joy to behold.”
The wild horses are descendants of animals introduced to the Island in the 1700s, and are considered by many to be iconic features of the island with natural and cultural heritage value. Sable Island is 300 km off the coast of Nova Scotia in the North Atlantic Ocean and is only 42 kilometres (26 mi) long and covered in sand dunes and grasses. The only humans who stay there are Parks Canada staff, researchers and the people who run the Island’s weather station.
According to Wikipedia, “… during the 19th and early 20th centuries, the horses on Sable Island were periodically rounded up and either kept by islanders or transported to the mainland, where they were sold, frequently for slaughter. The meat was primarily used for dog food by the late 1950s, and the Island horses were in danger of extinction. A public campaign was begun by school children to save the horses. In 1960, as part of the Canadian Shipping Act, the Canadian government declared the horses fully protected and no longer able to be rounded up and sold.”
Sable Island is also home to the world’s largest breeding colony of grey seals, which pup between late December and early February and over 350 bird species.
Today, the herd is unmanaged, and legally protected from interference by humans.