This year marks the 100-year anniversary of the wild horses of the Namib, or the Namibs, as they are often called. Their origins date back to the turbulent time of WWI when horses were abandoned to the desert extremes. Free of constraint by owners, the horses followed the green grazing and water sources, eventually making their way to the Garub waterhole, established as a watering point for the steam trains and the only permanent source of water in the area. It is believed that the horses from the Kubub stud farm, 35km from Garub, formed the core of the wild horse population, linking up with horses that remained near the Union base after it was bombed by retreating Germans forces in 1915.
The well-bred horses found themselves in an unlikely home; the harsh conditions of the Namib Desert offering a challenging existence for the toughest of creatures. Yet, the horses adapted over time to the harsh environment, forming family groups, recalling their natural ways and regaining their freedom as wild animals. The Sperrgebiet - the restricted diamond mining territory - where they lived provided a certain amount of protection over the years. The area was incorporated into the Namib Naukluft Park in 1986.
During dry conditions, when grazing becomes scarce, the horses basically have to ‘work’ for the quantity of nutrients they need. Then they cover vast distances, feed wherever possible and rarely play. Visits to the drinking trough are put off for as long as possible.
Ten generations of horses later, there have been years of severe drought and periods of abundance. The drought years have limited the horse numbers, keeping the population at around 200 horses (presently 170), and ensuring that it doesn’t exceed the carrying capacity of the land. Other threats include collisions with motor vehicles as horses are frequently hit by cars travelling at night on the road passing through their grazing area. Recent years have also seen spotted hyena targeting the very young and older horses. In the drier times, the horses have to travel further afield to find grazing, returning to the waterhole at Garub to drink once a day in scorching summer heat or once every three days in cooler temperatures. In years of abundance they don’t need to travel as far and often remain around the waterhole and viewing hide for long periods, much to the delight of their appreciative audience.
The hide was built overlooking the waterhole at Garub, 20km west of Aus, in 1993 (and rebuilt in 2012), providing viewers with many hours of pleasure. It is a powerful experience to witness the family groups galloping to the water with a life-affirming energy and spirit of freedom, something that remains with visitors long after they return home. The backdrop of the stark plains edged by towering mountains adds to this dramatic and awe-inspiring event.
Initially enigmatic, the horses have been extensively studied over the last two decades. Dedicated in-depth research has been undertaken by Dr Telané Greyling as part of her undergraduate studies and doctoral thesis. Dr Greyling studied both the horses’ behavioural ecology as well as their place in the desert ecosystem. She discovered that the area which they utilise at the edge of the Namib Naukluft Park amounts to less than 0.5% of the total size of the protected area (Namib Naukluft and Tsaukaib/Sperrgebiet national parks), and she has put minds at rest by revealing that they don’t displace any other wildlife. They have seamlessly blended in and become part of the Namibian countryside over the last century.
The wild horses have become a major tourist attraction in southern Namibia and a highlight of travellers’ itineraries en route to Lüderitz and surrounds or from the canyon to the Sossusvlei area. They have also become a popular marketing tool for the country,the rugged, wild and natural beauty of Namibia.
In 2012, the Namibia Wild Horses Foundation was established for ongoing research and to regularly monitor the horses, to facilitate their well-being. The foundation comprises members from the tourism, veterinary and environmental management and research sectors. It marshals funding to assist in covering their basic costs and to provide a fund, should the need arise, for times when the horses require mineral supplements during the drought years, which periodically ravage the country. Signs are that extreme conditions may be fast approaching and the Foundation has started an initiative to raise funds by appealing for donations from businesses and members of the public. The Namibia Wild Horses Foundation is grateful to donors who have contributed to this fund so far and would like to express their heartfelt thanks. The Foundation welcomes any horse lover who wants to contribute to the survival of the wild horses. You can also support the wild horses by joining “Aktion Sonnenstern” by Hitradio Namibia. www.aktion-sonnenstern.org
Namibia Wild Horses Foundation
First National Bank of Namibia
Current Account 62246659489
Branch: Klein Windhoek (code 281479)
P O Box 21, Aus, Namibia
For more information about the wild horses, please refer to the book Wild Horses in the Namib Desert: An equine biography and the website www.wild-horses-namibia.com. A percentage of the proceeds from the book is donated to the Namibia Wild Horses Foundation.
Do you want to see the Wild Horses in their natural habitat? Visit the Klein-Aus Vista Lodge and witness how these beautiful animals survive in their surroundings.
For more information on the Klein Aus Vista Lodge, click here.
If you would like to find out more about the wild horses, you are invited to visit the presentation made by Gondwana MD, Manni Goldbeck and Telane Greyling of the Namibia Wild horses Foundation at the Swakopmund Museum on Thursday, the 10th of December at 19H00.