Custodian of the Namib Wild Horses - News - Gondwana Collection


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Custodian of the Namib Wild Horses

Avatar of inke inke - 27. November 2015 - Discover Namibia

Jan Coetzer patrolled the Diamond Restricted Area for CDM.

The wild horses have lived in the Namib Desert for nearly a century, being tempered by the desert conditions, forming the resilient Namib breed. Their origins are shrouded in myth and mystery, and include tales of a shipwreck south of the Orange River and a distraught widow opening the Duwisib castle gates to release the horses after hearing of her husband’s death. More plausible theories have since come to light concerning horses abandoned after the bombing of the Union base at Garub in World War I and horses descended from breeding stock at Kubub, a nearby stud farm.

The horses initially lived in the Sperrgebiet, the forbidden diamond area, where they were protected from hunters and horse capturers. The area was incorporated into the Namib Naukluft Park in 1986. Garub was an important source of fresh water in the desert and access to its borehole water ensured their survival. A handful of people have kept a benevolent eye on them over the years. 

Jan Coetzer served as the unofficial custodian of the wild horses from the time he began to patrol the area for Consolidated Diamond Mines (CDM) in 1966/67. He took an active interest in the horses until he left the area in 1981, checking up on the borehole at least once a month, often more frequently, keeping the pump-attendant happy and ensuring that he opened the reservoir’s tap to fill the trough for the horses. When the water was not pumped regularly, it was through Oom Jan’s (“Oom”, the Afrikaans word for “Uncle” denoting respect) recommendation and effort that CDM communicated with South African Railways (SAR) requesting a continued supply of water for the horses. When the pump broke down, he drove water out to Garub in a tanker. He ensured that the pump equipment was well maintained and replaced the reservoir with holding tanks in the early 80s,installing ball valves so that the trough would fill automatically. Oom Jan once again became involved in the wild horses’ plight during the 1992 drought when he raised money for supplementary feed.

Jan’s father was born in South Africa and came to German South West Africa as a young man to fight in the war in 1914/1915, remaining in the country afterwards. Jan grew up on a farm adopting all sorts of animals and continued caring for abandoned animals, from springbok and gemsbok to owls and lanner falcons throughout his life. He was appointed an honorary nature conservation officer, nominated by Namdeb, for the Lüderitz/Oranjemund region and acted as a ranger reporting irregularities in the area. 

Jan says that many people have contributed in different ways to the survival of the wild horses. He gives credit to CDM for supporting the continued existence of the horses in the protected and well-policed Sperrgebiet and to South African Railways for making the Garub water available for the horses.  

Oom Jan is a man who has always loved animals and especially horses. He was initially attracted by the mystique of the wild horses living in this remote area in extreme conditions and how they had become a pure breed through decades of isolation and natural selection, with only the strongest of the population surviving. He describes how “the challenge between two stallions can literally take your breath away as they paw the ground, prance, snort and rear, proud and free”. He says, “If you tame a wild horse, you take away some of its spirit.”

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