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Hurricane Fiona: What’s happening to wild horses on Sable Island?

The crescent-shaped Sable Island in the North Atlantic is home to a herd of wild horses and will likely also be the target of the next Hurricane Fiona.

The storm, described as “historic” by meteorologists, is expected to make landfall Saturday morning, bringing hurricane-force winds and more than 100 millimeters of rain to much of the region and eastern Quebec. More than 200 millimeters of rain are expected to fall, which could lead to washouts on some roads.

In its latest update, the Canadian Hurricane Center said the storm was moving north and was expected to reach Nova Scotia waters late Friday evening before crossing Cape Breton early Saturday.

Sable Island National Park Reserve in Nova Scotia is a narrow strip of dunes and grasslands, home to some 500 horses that have roamed it since the 18th century.

They have become synonymous with the romantic and wild image of the island and are protected as wildlife by Parks Canada under the Canada National Parks Act.

A small team of four officials is ready to take refuge on the island, and all flights scheduled for tourists have been canceled. According to a statement from Parks Canada Representative Jennifer Nicholson, team members actively secured supplies and machinery to reduce potential damage.

However, there is almost little natural protection or shade for horses on the island; they are not native to the sandbar and are thought to have been introduced by European sailors in the 18th century.

“When it comes to horses, wet, windy and cold weather can pose challenges to people, which is not uncommon for many wildlife species,” Nicholson said.

Although Nicholson did not outline specific plans for conservation efforts, she said “horses act instinctively and seek shelter in groups downwind of the dunes for protection.”

“Over the past two centuries, Sable Island horses have adapted remarkably well to their environment,” she added.

Horse numbers on Sable Island are not under the direct supervision or active management of Parks Canada, unlike other wildlife in national parks. Laws prohibit anyone from approaching, harming or disturbing Sable Island horses and prohibit anyone from feeding them.

Coastal areas of Nova Scotia and Newfoundland are expected to experience breaking waves, with waves expected to reach over 10 meters off Nova Scotia and over 12 meters in the eastern Gulf of St. Lawrence.

In addition to significant storm surges and the potential for flooding in coastal and mainland areas, the storm is expected to cause widespread power outages due to trees and utility poles downed by strong winds.

“Those who will be staying on Sable Island are well used to weathering storms on Sable Island. Luckily we have a generator on site and the power lines are underground which means we don’t have to worry about the power going out,” Nicholson said.

“However, due to heavy rain, heavy cloud cover or shaking satellite dishes, loss of communication for a short period is expected. Team members on the island have access to mobile phones by satellite for use in emergencies and will initiate a protocol for regular updates to their colleagues on the mainland.

With files from The Canadian Press and Reuters

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