Wild Horses - Embodying the wild Spirit of Namibia - News - Gondwana Collection

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Wild Horses - Embodying the wild Spirit of Namibia

Avatar of inke inke - 24. July 2015 - Discover Namibia

Play is part of the horses’ social life. Serious fights are a very rare occurrence. (Photo: Scott and Judy Hurd)

The Namib horses have survived in the desert in the south-western reaches of Namibia for close on a century. Like wild horses worldwide (with the exception of the Mongolian Wild Horse/Przewalski’s Horse, which still exist in its true and ancient genetic form) these resilient horses originated from domestic stock. And like all wild horses they fill our hearts and feed our dreams.

Several theories have been put forward over the years to account for their origin, but it is most likely that they are the descendants of horses belonging to the Union forces stationed at Garub during WWI and of the horses from the Kubub stud farm, 35 km south-east of Garub. During the tumultuous war years, the Garub base was bombed by the Germans, scattering the horses assembled there. In their haste to pursue the German soldiers stationed at Aus, Union forces would not have had sufficient time to capture all their horses that had fled to the mountain pools still holding water at the end of the summer rains. The Kubub horses, belonging to Lüderitzbucht mayor, Emil Kreplin, bred for the racecourse and for the diamond fields, would have joined them over time, either when Kreplin was interned in the Union or during the depression years after the war when he returned to Germany. These horses would have made up the core of the population. Clearly identifiable characteristics of the excellent stud breeds are still visible in the Namib population today.

When the water in the mountain pools dried up, the horses returned to the Garub borehole, one of the few permanent water sources in the desert, which was maintained after the war by South African Railways to supply water for its steam trains. Consolidated Diamond Mines (CDM) assisted in ensuring that the horses were kept watered in later years when diesel replaced steam. The horses returned to living as wild Equus groups, forming family groups and living according to the natural ways and seasons of the land. 

They lived in a section of the protected Sperrgebiet diamond area, which became part of the Namib Naukluft Park in 1986. The first studies and aerial counts of the horses took place in the late 1980s. Public interest in the horses increased and in November 1993 a lookout shelter was erected a hundred metres from the water troughs, giving the public access to the horses. Telané Greyling conducted a study on the behavioural ecology of the horses and has since kept detailed records of the horse population. She conducted further in-depth research between 2003 and 2005 as part of her doctoral thesis, looking at population dynamics, the influence of the horses on biodiversity, tourism activity in the area, plant communities, grazing capacity, termite grass utilisation and large herbivore densities and distribution. The results indicated that the horses do not displace any indigenous animals and established that there is no inter-species competition for resources.

After the 1998 drought, a workshop to develop a future management plan for the horses was attended by representatives from the Ministry of Environment and Tourism (MET), the veterinary services, the tourism industry and scientists from Namibia, South Africa and the United Kingdom. It was recommended that the horses remain in the area with as little interference as possible, that the population should remain large enough to allow for natural losses to occur during drought periods and that the carrying capacity of the land should be monitored to allow the population to fluctuate between a minimum and maximum threshold.

The horses, which are fast becoming known as the Namibs, have over the years become one of the major tourist attractions in southern Namibia. Tempered by years of drought their numbers remain low and they have adapted their behaviour and drinking patterns to survive in the harsh climate of the Namib Desert. They share the same qualities that characterise the desert country; they are soulful, rugged, natural and free, embodying the wild spirit of Namibia.

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