The last mare, Nunki, died in July of 2015. We had hoped that there could still be a lone stallion, the pinto Capella, roaming the wilderness somewhere. But he has not been seen in many years and his body has never been discovered.
Historically, the horses are between 13 and 13 and a half hands tall and weigh from 850 to 1000 lbs.
Nunki once roamed freely in 600 acres of pine forest that grows on gentle petrified sand dune hills. Due to the influx of poisonous, invasive plants which have killed horses, the horses were restricted from outside pastures and moved into the 3,800 acre Preserve.
We need to raise funds for an upgrade of the Preserve, including new, clean pastures. There are at least a dozen water holes in the fenced area.
The horses ate: Shepherds needle, cow grass, various other grasses, Thatch Palms (dried leaves, green leaves and blossoms), Poison Wood after a fire when the oil has been burned away from it, small portions of Senna, at least one leguminous vine, briar, thistle, Amaranth and other plants not yet identified.
Mares did not foal after Hurricane Floyd (1999) when the forest was so badly damaged they spent full time on a nearby citrus farm where they were exposed to a broad range of chemicals (pesticides, herbicides and fertilizers). They grazed full time on over rich feed, became obese and developed hoof problems. It is not known (and probably never will be) if the foot problems were the result of the obesity, the over rich diet, or the chemicals. Likely a combination of all factors produced the deadly results.
Similarly, the lack of reproduction is likely a result of several factors; the horses foaled successfully and consistently before their extended time on the farm. While they had other problems before they were brought into the Preserve, when they were able to ‘commute’ between forest and farm (before the hurricane) they had no reproductive problems.
Two deaths during the summer of 2009, Mare Bellatrix II and Stallion Mimosa, have been attributed to liver failure. The death of Achernar in 2010 had some similarities but no necropsy was possible.
The horses’ origins are open to debate, with few facts available but since the horses were imported from Cuba for logging work, and Columbus once had two horse farms in Cuba, and since the horses’ DNA very specifically indicates Spanish their lineage seems fairly certain. When the horses were slaughtered nearly to extinction in the late 1960s, the gene pool became so small that they were driven into a genetic bottleneck.
The only horses in Cuba today that resemble ours are the street horses. Nothing raised by the government resembles ours. DNA work is not available for Cuban horses.
Barbs? Colonial Spanish? Initially, we were quite certain that we had Barbs. However, the terminology is not clear and definitions are open to debate. It was thought that when the Moors invaded Spain they upgraded the Spanish Horse with their Barb horses. Recent research and thought indicate that the reverse may be true: The Moors found the Spanish horse superior and upgraded their Barbs. No matter what they are named, our horses show Spanish, and are much closer to the Colonial than the derivative Paso Fino.
Why do we call them wild?
When most people think of wild horses they think of flying manes and tails and pounding hooves. These are signs of panic, not wildness. Many of our visitors have said they have more trouble being close enough to their own horses in pasture to take pictures than they do with ours. Our horses are wild because even without the protective fence and our presence, they would still survive (once the reproductive problems are solved). They don’t need us, they are in no way domesticated. They are feral, the preferable word.
In its hey day we had about five miles of electric fence around the Preserve and it took constant maintenance to keep it weed free. When the horses come back we will fence in what we need as the herd grows.
Power on the Preserve was from a solar array (except for a small propane stove and refrigerator). A composting toilet dealt with human waste and could contaminate the water supply. Supplies and facilities still are are in 20’ steel shipping containers much in need of overhaul and should be replaced with new structures.
We have learned that fire is Not necessary for the health of the forest. At least, not when the fires are deliberately set annually by humans. Pine cones fall to the ground and respond to humidity, opening on dry days, closing on damp days, until the seeds are released. Fire is not needed to make the cones open. Brush can and does build up, bracken grows rampant. New growth can be choked off. Burns every five or ten years would be more normal. At this time, orchids once seen in the forest on the Preserve have been completely burned out. In the ‘spring of 2007 a fire raged around and through the Preserve for five weeks. We lost a great deal of fence. Every winter, if fronts do not bring rain, fires set by humans burn all over the island. Restoration of our tractor and rebuilding our ‘fire engine’ combined with a program of pre emotive clearing of fire breaks and back burning would allow suddessful firefighting.
We receive NO financial assistance from the Government of the Bahamas. We survive solely on the funds we raise through this web site, visits from tourists, and occasional grants and donations. All funds go directly to pay the two men who maintain the Preserve, to buy gas for the truck, diesel for the tractor, and to pay for all repairs and new equipment when we can afford it.
Please join us in our work to bring these wonderful horses back, and to expand the sanctuary into a haven for other abandoned and abused animals. And help us make it a haven for people too.