A Sable Island Story

Sable Island is a long, narrow sandbar all alone in the blue Atlantic Ocean, 160 kilometres east of Nova Scotia. It is made entirely of sand. People have visited Sable Island for at least 500 years. They brought mammals too - horses, cows, pigs, sheep, rabbits, rats, cats, dogs and foxes. Only one kind of mammal has survived. Let's find out what happened.

Nova Scotia Museum of Natural History
Sable Island Preservation Trust

© Nova Scotia Museum of Natural History 2001. All Rights Reserved


cattle

1550 Portuguese fishermen put cattle on Sable so they would have fresh meat.

Nova Scotia Museum of Natural History
Sable Island Preservation Trust

© Nova Scotia Museum of Natural History 2001. All Rights Reserved


Cattle

1633 John Rose of Boston, shipwrecked on Sable for 3 months, saw about 800 cattle. His messages attracted hunters who killed them all.

Nova Scotia Museum of Natural History
Sable Island Preservation Trust

© Nova Scotia Museum of Natural History 2001. All Rights Reserved


Horses arrive, 1700's

Horses were put on the island in the 1700s. We used to think they escaped from shipwrecks. But they were really stolen from the Acadian people of Nova Scotia.

Nova Scotia Museum of Natural History
Sable Island Preservation Trust

© Nova Scotia Museum of Natural History 2001. All Rights Reserved


Sheep and Pigs, 1801

1801 Sheep and pigs were brought to Sable. The pigs became wild and fierce.

Nova Scotia Museum of Natural History
Sable Island Preservation Trust

© Nova Scotia Museum of Natural History 2001. All Rights Reserved


Death of Sheep and Pigs

All the pigs were shot because they were eating dead sailors. The sheep died. Maybe they ate poisonous plants.

Nova Scotia Museum of Natural History
Sable Island Preservation Trust

© Nova Scotia Museum of Natural History 2001. All Rights Reserved


Rabbits arrive

1801 Rabbits were brought to Sable Island for food for the people who lived at the lifesaving station.

Nova Scotia Museum of Natural History
Sable Island Preservation Trust

© Nova Scotia Museum of Natural History 2001. All Rights Reserved


Rats arrive

But rats came ashore from shipwrecks and ate some of the rabbits.

Nova Scotia Museum of Natural History
Sable Island Preservation Trust

© Nova Scotia Museum of Natural History 2001. All Rights Reserved


Cats arrive

Cats were brought to kill the rats. They also killed all the rabbits.

Nova Scotia Museum of Natural History
Sable Island Preservation Trust

© Nova Scotia Museum of Natural History 2001. All Rights Reserved


Hunters and thier dogs

Hunters and dogs killed all the cats.

Nova Scotia Museum of Natural History
Sable Island Preservation Trust

© Nova Scotia Museum of Natural History 2001. All Rights Reserved


Return of the rabbits

Then rabbits were brought to the island again.

Nova Scotia Museum of Natural History
Sable Island Preservation Trust

© Nova Scotia Museum of Natural History 2001. All Rights Reserved


Owls

This time, Snowy Owls ate them all!

Nova Scotia Museum of Natural History
Sable Island Preservation Trust

© Nova Scotia Museum of Natural History 2001. All Rights Reserved


More Rabbits

1882 More rabbits were brought. They multiplied.

Nova Scotia Museum of Natural History
Sable Island Preservation Trust

© Nova Scotia Museum of Natural History 2001. All Rights Reserved


Cats and Foxes

1889 Cats were brought to control the hordes of rabbits. Then 7 foxes were brought to prey on the cats.

Nova Scotia Museum of Natural History
Sable Island Preservation Trust

© Nova Scotia Museum of Natural History 2001. All Rights Reserved


Cats and Foxes

The cats also ate the birds. The foxes ate the cats and a lot of the birds, too.

Nova Scotia Museum of Natural History
Sable Island Preservation Trust

© Nova Scotia Museum of Natural History 2001. All Rights Reserved


Grasshoppers

With few birds to eat them, grasshoppers multiplied and ate most plants. Then storms blew a lot of grasshoppers out to sea.

Nova Scotia Museum of Natural History
Sable Island Preservation Trust

© Nova Scotia Museum of Natural History 2001. All Rights Reserved


Return of Hunters

After hunters killed the foxes, birds returned and ate grasshoppers again. The grasses grew back.

Nova Scotia Museum of Natural History
Sable Island Preservation Trust

© Nova Scotia Museum of Natural History 2001. All Rights Reserved


The Animals of Sable Island

1989 Now there are no cows, pigs sheep, rabbits, rats, cats, dogs, foxes or hunters on Sable Island.

Nova Scotia Museum of Natural History
Sable Island Preservation Trust

© Nova Scotia Museum of Natural History 2001. All Rights Reserved


Present day

About 200 wild horses still live on Sable Island, free as the wind.

Nova Scotia Museum of Natural History
Sable Island Preservation Trust

© Nova Scotia Museum of Natural History 2001. All Rights Reserved


Learning Objectives

The Learner will:

  • Describe, using examples, how humans have influenced the animals that live, and have lived, on Sable Island;
  • Explain how animal populations are affected by the presence of other animals, and the introduction of other animals;
  • Identify and describe the relationship between predators and prey;
  • Describe some elements of the unique ecosystem of Sable Island.

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