It is not known how long the Namib Desert Feral Horses have lived on an area covering approximately 350 square kilometres in the Namib Desert, but local speculate they have been there since 'German times'. As there are no written records about their provenance their origins remain unclear, but there are, of course, quite a few theories. One of the best places to view these horses is at Klein Aus Vista Lodge, the horses can also often be spotted grazing alongside the main road between Aus and Luderitz.
One plausible theory relates to the German occupation of South West Africa a large number of horses were needed for the cavalry and an eccentric German nobleman, Baron Hans-Heinrich von Wolf, set up a horse breeding station at his outlandish castle, Duwisib, on the edge of the desert. Once the Baron went off to the first world war in Europe nobody looked after the stable of more than 300 horses and after his death herds of them ran wild, roaming the veld around Duwisib until 1950. It is possible that some of them wandered the 150 kilometres south- westward to the water at Garub.
It is likely, too, that some of the feral horses originated from the Schutztruppe mounts, as well as from the those belonging to a South African Expeditionary Force that took control of the Lüderitz- Keetmanshoop line during the First World War. Another theory is that a ship carrying thoroughbreds from Europe to Australia that ran aground near the mouth of the Orange River. The strongest horses could have reached the shore and found their way to the Garub plains.
Under Namibia's South African occupation the Spergebiet (restricted diamond area) fell under the control of CDM a subsidiary of Anglo American Surprisingly the pumping station was maintained in good order by CDM, apparently aware of the existence of the horses. Through the 1970's to the 1980's, a CDM security officer took an active interest in the horses and made sure they always had water. He even obtained funds from his company to install modern water tanks at Garub.
In 1986 CDM handed over the northern part of the Sperrgebiet to the Directorate of Nature Conservation, so the authorities responsible for the Namib-Naukluft Park have now taken over the care of the horses. They replaced the old water point at Garub with new solar panel installations, and in 1991 conducted the first aerial count of the horses, which showed that the population comprised 276 individuals, probably the largest it had ever been A year later southern Africa was devastated by the most severe drought of this century and 30 to 40 of the horses died. In June 1992 the Ministry of Wildlife, Conservation and Tourism launched an operation to save the grazing and to ensure a viable breeding nucleus. They ensure a viable breeding nucleus. They caught 104 horses and sold them to the public, and fed the remaining animals, about 80, until it rained again, in March 1993. At present the numbers are slowly increasing and stand at about 150.
The conservation of the feral horses in the Namib-Naukluft Park has aroused controversy. Some people argue that the horses are of historical and scientific value and that they should not be removed. Many others think that the horses, as non-native species, compete with the indigenous wildlife (mainly gemsbok, springbok and ostriches) for the sparse vegetation. In fact, there is little or no evidence of competition between the horses and the game animals, and the former occasionally graze within a few metres of gemsbok and springbok without any apparent interaction. Gemsbok move away from the waterhole when horses approach and vice versa, but sometimes both species drink at the same time. Being relatively independent of water, the indigenous wildlife range over far greater territories than the horses do, so the presence of the latter has probably no significant bearing on the numbers of game in the park.
The Namib feral horses are unique in the sense that they have been isolated for a number of generations. Their hardiness in the face of extremely harsh climatic conditions is extraordinary, as is the fact that they have been able to circumvent the vital problem of food and water availability by adapting their behaviour and their allocation of time. For these reasons, if for no other, they deserve our wonder and admiration.
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