The Wild Horses of the Fish River Canyon - Namibie Safari et Lodges - Gondwana Collection

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The Wild Horses of the Fish River Canyon

Avatar of inke inke - 01. juillet 2016 - Discover Namibia

Wild horses cross the Fish River.

Wild horses are often encountered by hikers in the Fish River Canyon; exquisite apparitions seen as you turn a bend in the canyon, when the heat dazzles, the blue sky forms a canopy above and the green reeds and birdsong offer cool respite from long hiking days.

Namibia is home to the Namib wild horses of the Namib Naukluft Park, yet there is another population of wild horses that is often overlooked. A separate, younger and smaller population of wild horses lives in the very south of the country and roams the canyon area from Sulphur Springs to Ai-Ais and down to the Orange River, and is occasionally seen from the Sulphur Springs viewpoint. Independent and free, the canyon horses live a tough existence evident in their rugged appearance. They drink from the puddles and pools of the Fish River as it makes its way southwards, feed on reeds and hard grass, are preyed upon by leopard and suffer in years of drought.

Horses of the world share a 50 million year evolutionary history of being wild and a more recent history of domestication starting 5000-6000 years ago when nomadic peoples of the Eurasian steppes are said to have begun the domestication process. For the next 4000 years horses were used for war and conquest, agriculture and industry, and sport and recreation. 

Pockets of wild horses exist on every continent on the planet, except for Antarctica, and are all descended from domesticated ancestors, with the exception of the Mongolian Wild Horse, or Przewalski’s Horse, which still exists in its true, ancient genetic form.

The origins of the Fish River Canyon horses can be traced back to a farm in the canyon area called Kochas, situated between the main viewpoint and Ai-Ais. The farmer, a Mr Pieters, persevered in trying to farm in the arid area in the severe drought of the 1970s. He applied to the government for an emergency grazing license to enable him to move his sheep to an area with better grazing. When he was allowed grazing rights in the Warmbad Bondelswarts area, he stayed there for several months with his sheep. During this time he noticed many horses in the area. Horses had lost their status in the 1940s and 50s with the advent of cars and most people were happy to get rid of them, often giving them to their workers as remuneration. The farmer asked the Namas if he could purchase some of the animals, agreeing to pay R8 per horse, and took approximately thirty horses back to his canyon farm. As it was impossible to fence off the area, the horses soon became wild. In 1992, before he died and the farm was sold by his wife, his son attempted to catch them, rounding them up with his motorbike. Chance intervened and when on the last stretch, he crashed the bike in the rough terrain, breaking a collarbone. The horses became free once again.

Forty years after they were initially brought to the canyon, roughly thirty horses are still believed to exist here. The likelihood of their survival in the long term is questionable because of the harsh environment and their low numbers. 

Several horses, their ancestors once belonging to a Mr Jansen - who offered horse-rides along the Orange River, are said to have joined the canyon horses in later years, including a white horse. No white horses remain in the population today, however, as they are eliminated from the genepool by natural selection. Being conspicuous, they are more easily preyed upon by predators and are more susceptible to skin disorders than their darker coloured relatives.

Totally independent of humans, the hardy and resilient Fish River Canyon horses have over the years found their freedom, forming family groups and reclaiming their true wild nature, becoming part of the character and charm of the second largest canyon in the world.

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