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What Will Happen to the Sable Island Ponies
 By Winniefield Park   •   16th Sep 2014   •   3,904 views   •   4 comments
What Will Happen to the Sable Island Ponies

Sable Island is a thin, smile shaped, 27 miles (42 km) long, 1 mile (1.5 km) wide strip of sand and wind southeast of Nova Scotia, Canada. It is surrounded by shoals, and before the time of modern sea navigation, these shoals, the surrounding fog and difficult weather took hundreds of ships down with tons of freight and many, many lives. Early in the 1800s, a small settlement was established to assist in sea rescues. And up to the mid-1900s, about 50 people lived on the island.

The occupancy of the Sabe Island Ponies though, pre-dates the human settlement. Although many believe that the ponies are descendents of ship-wrecked horses, this may not be true. Prior to the permanent settlement, farmers established their claim on a piece of land by grazing livestock on it. Some of the ponies might be descendants of horses that were left or escaped from these farmers. Another theory is, that when the French Acadians were expelled from Canada’s eastern provinces by the British during what is called the Le Grand Dérangement, their horses were confiscated, and left on the island. The first recorded horses brought to the island where owned by a clergyman named LeMercier.

Related: The Life of The Coal Mine Pit Pony
Related: Three Places to Adopt Wild Horses
Related: Swimming the Ponies at Chincoteague

When the rescue station existed on the island, the ponies were used in the recovery operations. Other breeds were brought in to improve the ponies. And, although they are often pony sized, they look like horses. Now, the influence of the various breeds that were introduced is evident in the various head and body types of the ponies today.

The ponies did not always run free. They were culled and sold, slaughtered for dog food, used as draught animals in coal mines on the mainland, trained as riding horses and used in agriculture until a campaign by school children resulted in the Canadian Government declaring the ponies were protected and could no longer be rounded up. Since 1960, it has been illegal to interfere with the ponies in any way.

This doesn’t mean the ponies have an easy life however. The environment they live in is very harsh. There are no trees for shelter and their main diet is tough marram or beach grass that grows on the sandy dunes. The weather is not particularly cold, but it is one of the few hurricane prone places in Canada.

There are now less than a half dozen people living on the island - mainly researchers and scientists, seals and of course, the Sable Island Ponies. Currently, there are between 300 and 400 ponies on the island. That number has dipped as low as 175 individuals when round ups were still allowed. There are no natural predators on the island, so the ponies tend to die of old age, usually starving to death when they can no longer chew the tough grass with badly worn teeth. Researchers and tourists may observe the ponies, but may not interact with them in any way.

A new controversy has arisen that may interfere with the ponies’ idyllic existence. Scientists are blaming the ponies for destroying the island’s delicate ecosystem. The beach grass they graze is important for preventing erosion. And, compaction from their hooves may be causing more damage. The ponies, they claim, are an invasive species. Parks Canada, which has managed the island and ponies since 2011, have deemed the ponies ‘naturalized’ acknowledging they are not a native species, but have become part of the habitat. Scientists are recommending the removal of the horses from the island.

What do you think? Are they as the scientists claim ‘misplaced farm animals’, or an important part of history worth preserving?

--Reference--
http://www.thecanadianencyclopedia.ca/en/article/sable-island-horses/
http://thechronicleherald.ca/novascotia/79892-parks-canada-takes-control-sable-island-today
http://thechronicleherald.ca/novascotia/79892-parks-canada-takes-control-sable-island-today
http://news.nationalpost.com/2014/09/10/legendary-animals-or-invasive-species-romantics-square-off-against-scientists-who-want-to-evict-sable-islands-horses/
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Nights Lost Dreams  
From a zoological standpoint, it seems to me like the problem lies not in the presence of the ponies, but their overbearing presence. There are simply too many horses for the island to sustain without consequence, such as the depletion of important marsh grasses or damage caused by horse hooves. If the population were decreased to around 150-200 adult herd members or fewer, with that number controlled by the culling of weak and elderly horses (who would otherwise most likely starve to death) and through round-ups, which has worked successfully for decades with American Chincoteague Ponies, who live on an island with conditions almost the same to the Sable Island Ponies, then perhaps things would improve. It seems like a happy medium to me, as the ponies are an important part of the island's ecosystem and history.
  Sep 16, 2014  •  4,631 views
 
Valkyrie  MOD 
It's actually pretty cruel not to allow any contact with them. Here in NZ we have a feral breed of pony/small horse called the Kaimanawa. They are mustered every two years and the herds thinned. The best breeding stock is released back onto the range in controlled numbers. The rest are either adopted out (this year saw record numbers of adoptions) or sent to slaughter.

The thing is - most of the horses suffer from terrible hoof conditions like abscesses and over-growth, as well as horrible, painful teeth which rot and fester because of the fact they get no veterinary attention on the range. The Wilson sisters (famous here in NZ for their work with Kaimanawas and for their sporthorses) had a stallion they called Hoff. He was incredibly vicious, so dangerous in fact that they couldn't work with him and had to put up warning signs around his paddock. Turns out it was from head trauma and sore teeth.

By rounding up these ponies and keeping records of the herds they can control not on
  Sep 16, 2014  •  4,603 views
 
Nights Lost Dreams  
I agree, Val. With our Chincoteague Ponies, the Chincoteague Volunteer Fire Department personally takes care of the herds, and the horses are constantly around humans (they're not feral at all, I've seen them myself, a few came right up to me on the beach. One half-grown foal tried to steal our lunch. They're typical spoiled rotten ponies), so if someone sees a problem, it's reported, and that horse is taken care of.

Seriously, Chincoteague Ponies live almost the exact same lifestyle and eat the same types of marsh grasses that these Sable island ponies do. They even look identical. I don't see why the same practice wouldn't work. I mean, the money raised from auctioning off foals every year pays for the care of the wild horses, and for the islands of Chincoteague and Assateague, almost all of their income comes from tourists, and those tourists are there for the horses. It'd be a win-win.

It seems idiotic of Sable Island to just say the horses are protected and not allow anyone
  Sep 17, 2014  •  4,545 views
 
Evergreen Creek Quarters  
Sable Island is about 175 km southeast of the closest point of mainland. It would be difficult to try and round them up and bring them over to sell them on the mainland. However their numbers are too high to stay healthy on the island and something does need to be done. I'd love to have one though!
  42 days ago  •  4,158 views
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