Emil Kreplin, Father of the Namib Wild Horses - News - Gondwana Collection

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Emil Kreplin, Father of the Namib Wild Horses

Avatar of inke inke - 08. April 2016 - Discover Namibia

Kreplin among his stud animals on the farm Kubub near Aus. (photo: private collection Mannfred Goldbeck)

Wild horses have lived in the vast stretches of the Namib Desert in the southwestern corner of Namibia for close to a century, in what was once the Sperrgebiet, forbidden diamond mining territory, and is now the Namib-Naukluft Park. They have captured our imaginations and our hearts, and have come to represent fierce survival, the strong and rugged spirit of Namibia, and – freedom. 

It is suggested that they originated from horses that survived a shipwreck south of the Orange River, from those released or escaped from Duwisib Castle or that they are the descendants of Union horses that fled when the Garub base was bombed in World War I. (The first two can be discounted by the large distance the horses would have had to travel over desert terrain to reach Garub.) A lesser known more plausible explanation that remains hidden behind the murky curtains of history, is that the horses originated from the Kubub stud farm, belonging to a Mr Emil Kreplin.

A name that is unfamiliar to most, Emil Kreplin was a prominent resident and mayor of Lüderitzbucht, as it was known at the turn of the twentieth century. He had travelled to German South West Africa with the Schutztruppe (Imperial German Colonial Troops) as a young man in 1894. Although most people associate August Stauch with the 1908 diamond rush, the man to whom Zacharias Lewala handed the first sparkling stone, Emil Kreplin also played an important role. As Stauch’s superior, an “Oberbahnmeister” (railway supervisor) for the railway construction company Lenz & Co., he organised the locomotive and accompanied Stauch to Aus to confirm that the stone was indeed a diamond. The discovery of diamonds enabled men like Stauch and Kreplin to become remarkably wealthy, virtually overnight. 

Kreplin was one of the founders of Charlottental Diamantengesellschaft in 1908 and later became the director of Kolmanskop Diamond Mines Ltd. He used a portion of his diamond wealth to acquire a stud farm at Kubub, near Aus, breeding workhorses and racehorses for the fledgling German colony and the surrounding diamond mines. The Kubub farm, being a fair distance inland from the desolate desert terrain of Lüderitzbucht and at a higher altitude, was safe from horse sickness and enjoyed more temperate weather, good grazing and a supply of underground water. Kreplin was one of the first to import high-quality horses for racing and breeding purposes as recorded in newspaper clippings from the time.

When fates changed abruptly at the onset of World War I, “Burgermeister” Kreplin reportedly negotiated with the German troops, convincing them to leave Lüderitzbucht intact as they retreated inland, blowing up the railway lines behind them. When the Union forces arrived, he was amongst the local inhabitants who were interned in the Union of South Africa for the duration of hostilities, thereafter resuming his duties in Lüderitzbucht. 

Kreplin returned to Germany in 1920, losing all his remaining wealth in the Depression years that dragged behind the war in Europe. Kolmanskop Diamond Mines Ltd was placed in voluntary liquidation in 1923. Kreplin had leased out the Kubub land from 1911 and it seems likely that ownerless and with no fences to contain them, the horses would have begun to scatter over time, leaving the Kubub area that was overgrazed (and its water poisoned) in the war period, following grazing and water sources to Garub, 35km away. Here they would have joined other horses that had gathered over the tumultuous war years, dependent on the Garub water. These are likely to have included any abandoned Union horses that had initially moved to the mountain pools and strays remaining after the war. 

Little would Emil Kreplin have known as he boarded the ship to carry him north away from African shores that his horses would initiate a wild population in the Namib Desert. His days of riches were over and he eventually lost his “Diamond House”, Haus Lüderitzbucht, in the rural town of Wolzig on the outskirts of Berlin and returned to South West Africa to farm in Omaruru. When there was unusually heavy rainfall in the area, the river came down in flood taking his last hope with it towards the sea. He travelled to Swakopmund to seek assistance from friends and finally, in desperation, shot himself on the banks of the Swakop River.

The horses, however, became part of the arid land they had found themselves in and now live an existence determined, like all wild creatures, by the seasons of the land. The drought years have kept their numbers low and their gene pool strong. A century later, they form part of the beauty of the Namib Naukluft Park that draws visitors and stirs heartstrings.

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