The wild horses of the Namib may disappear - News - Gondwana Collection

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The wild horses of the Namib may disappear

Avatar of inke inke - 07. April 2017 - Discover Namibia, Environment, Tourism

Namibia’s wild horses have lived in the desert for 100 years. They are one of the top ten tourist attractions in Namibia and they “embody the spirit of Namibia”. They have contributed to the promotion of Namibia as a destination and have been the subject of a number of documentaries about the country. The horses are also part of Namibia’s history and heritage and are genetically differentiated from other horse breeds.

Twenty-two years of research has shown that the number of wild horses has varied due to changes in rainfall, often with many dying during droughts. Donations from the generous national and international public that came to over N$1.5 million, have been used to buy food for them and as a result, there have been no deaths directly caused by malnutrition in the last two years. The supplementary feed has kept them going although it is still marginal.

Now, as well as having to cope with a serious lack of grazing from the latest drought, predation by hyaenas is threatening the survival of the wild horses in the Garub area of the Namib Naukluft National Park.

No foal has survived since 2013 and the horse population has steadily dropped. Due to the drought, most of the other migratory game has moved north and east looking for greener pastures which leaves mainly only horses to prey on in the Garub area. Therefore, the rate of predation has increased significantly during the past two months. The number of mares is down to 42 and we estimate that at this rate the population will be “functionally extinct” (some may still be around but it’s inevitable that they will go extinct) by August.

Obviously, something has to be done without delay if the horses are to be saved. Killing the hyaenas is not an option. In a National Park this would be unethical.  The alternatives are either to move the hyaenas or to move the horses. 

The Namibia Wild Horses Foundation and the Ministry of Environment and Tourism, with input from the Hyaena Research groups, arrived at a conclusion that is hopefully best for both species.  The MET’s primary objective of maintaining natural populations in a National Park rules out the possibility of relocating the hyaenas. Not only would this be difficult to justify but would be a fundamentally short term option as the vacuum would most probably be filled by other hyaenas.  However, it was agreed that a solution that would be best for both the hyaenas and the horses (or at least the large majority of them) is to move the horses, leaving the hyaenas to survive as before, by feeding on natural prey species such as oryx.

The immediate need is to take the pressure off the horses so to start with, the hyaenas will be provided with alternative prey that will be sourced from farms for as short a period as possible. This will give the Foundation time to find suitable land that could be turned into a sanctuary in which the horses would live with the integrity of a wild population. The ideal location would be somewhere near the Garub area where the horses have lived for over 100 years and where they will still be accessible to the public. 

The NWHF and MET will be cooperating closely to manage this crisis and although it can’t be guaranteed, there’s a good chance that there will be a happy ending for both the horses and the hyaenas.

Namibia Wild Horses Foundation

P.O. Box 21, Aus, Namibia

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