On the barren, sandy plains of Garub in the Namib Naukluft Park, the Namib wild horses are battling for survival.
With no more than 5mm of rain since 2014, there is barely a blade of grass remaining. As the hoped-for winter rains did not materialise in south-western Namibia, the plains remain an inhospitable sandpit with little or no vegetation.
Needless to say, the wild horse numbers have plummeted dramatically, with not a single foal having survived since the onset of the drought. At present, only 40 mares and 70 stallions remain the area, which has been home to the Namib wild horses for over a century. The population numbers have dropped by half in the last few years. It is only through the generous donations from the public that the remaining horses continue to survive.
The Namibs originate from around the time of the diamond rush in 1908 in the south-western corner of the country, when horses were bred as workhorses for the mines and racehorses for the fledgling German colony. It seems likely that two groups of horses merged at the Garub borehole, the only permanent source of water in the area. These would have been the Kubub stud horses that made their way to Garub during the tumultuous time of WWI, and military horses that escaped when the Garub Union base was bombed by the retreating Germans in March 1915. Other stragglers may have joined them from time to time.
The well-bred horses adapted to the harsh conditions of the desert, forming family groups, recalling their natural ways and regaining their freedom as wild animals. They have dazzled visitors with their unfettered wild spirit as they gallop to the waterhole at the Garub viewpoint.
Through the years the continual and inevitable cycle of droughts in the desert have tempered their genepool and kept their numbers around 200, in keeping with the carrying capacity of the land. This drought period has brought an additional challenge, exacerbating the situation: predation by Spotted hyenas.
When the predation on the horses increased to an unsustainable level, the Namibia Wild Horses Foundation approached the Ministry of Environment and Tourism (MET) to find a possible solution. Various options were discussed, including the relocation of the wild horses to a ‘Wild Horse Sanctuary’ on suitable land where they would be protected from the hyenas. It does not seem like a viable option right now as land that is available for sale comes at a large investment of almost N$35 million (€2,1 million), an amount that will take much effort to raise, and considerable time, which the horses may not have. As a temporary solution, MET sanctioned the feeding of the hyenas to distract them from the horses. This has reduced the pressure on the wild horse population enormously and reduced the number of horses targeted per month by the hyenas, which would already have put the horses below the critical point of survival by now. It remains a short-term solution, however, as the wild horse population continues to drop to dangerous levels. With the situation as it is at present, it is possible that the population of wild horses could be extinct by the end of next year unless drastic measures are urgently taken.
The condition of the surviving horses has fluctuated in the last 23 months, depending on the quality and palatability of the feed supplied. Nearly a quarter of the horses have deteriorated dramatically and are in poor or very poor condition, while half are in mediocre condition and the rest remain in fairly good condition. Many of the horses will not survive, but the Namibia Wild Horses Foundation believes that it is possible to save the core group with the continued donations of feed.
In the meantime, an action group, the ‘Aus-Lüderitz Tourism & Business Action Group’, has been formed by a group of concerned individuals, most of whom are directly involved in the tourism industry, to lobby for the wild horses’ survival. They have, with the Namibia Chamber of Commerce and Industry – Lüderitz branch, also approached the ministry regarding the importance of the wild horses as a valuable national asset, a drawcard and a major tourism attraction in the area, with a plea to secure their future. They emphasise that the extinction of the wild horses will negatively impact tourism in the Karas Region and in Namibia in general, with repercussions for everyone. Based on visitor statistics, they have identified the Namib wild horses as one of the top ten tourist attractions in Namibia, ranking on a par with the Fish River Canyon and Kolmanskop ghost town. The action group does not advocate the relocation of the horses (the horses, after all, have lived on the plains for over a century, do not compete with any other wildlife in the park, nor do they impact the ecology in any way). Rather, they recognise that there is an urgent need for Intervention at this critical time. They understand the management of the hyenas to be vital – and the only solution to ensure the survival of the horses. This remains in the hands of MET.
While discussions are still under way with the action group, the foundation and the ministry, every moment is crucial for the survival of the wild horses as they lose condition daily, are continually targeted by the hyenas and fight for their lives. Time is of the essence.
To donate to the Namibia Wild Horses Foundation, click here.
For those wishing to find out more information about the wild horses and to keep up to date on the situation, please visit the Namibia Wild Horses Foundation website and Facebook page: