The Wild Horses of Namib Desert

May 2, 2017 0 comments

The sparsely vegetated plains around Garub on the eastern fringe of the Namib Desert is no paradise. The land is barren, the climate dry and hot, and vegetation is few and sparse. Yet, over the decades, a group of a wild horses have managed to adapt to the harsh conditions and made the desert their home.

Numbering between 90 and 150, these wild horses are one of the most isolated horse populations in the world, and the only feral herd residing in Africa.


Photo credit: jbdodane/Flickr

There are many theories as to how the horses came to the most unlikely of places. One plausible theory is that they are descendants of cavalry and riding horses which the German troops brought with them during their occupation of South West Africa. During the First World War, some of these horses may have escaped, or were released into the desert, or were left behind when the troops left in 1915. Eventually, the horses congregated in the Garub Plains around a borehole, dug to supply water to steam locomotives at the nearby railway station. A watering place developed around this borehole, and Garub became the central place of residence for the horses.

Another factor that helped the horses survive was the discovery of diamonds around Kolmanskop, near the port city L├╝deritz, in 1908. The German colonials quickly sealed off the region creating a 350 square kilometer restricted area known as Sperrgebiet. Garub is located within Sperrgebiet.

Nobody is allowed within Sperrgebiet, a policy that has kept out hunters and horse capturers, allowing the horses to live free from human interaction. Over the next one hundred years, through the process of natural selection, they have become a breed of their own, resilient to drought and the heat. In summer, at forty-degrees-heat, a Namib desert horse can go without water for as long as 30 hours. In winter, they can last even longer—an astounding 72 hours.

For sustenance the horses eat desert grass, supplementing their meager diet with pieces of their own dung. Surprisingly, horse manure is a good source of food containing almost three times more fat than the area’s dry grass and almost twice as much protein. But after a good rain, when grass becomes abundant, foraging becomes less stressful. During these happy periods, the horses feed at night and remain close to the waterhole, drinking all day long. Their numbers also increase significantly during this time.

In 1977, when the mining company replaced steam engines with diesel locomotives, and pumping of water stopped, many horses died of dehydration. Then an employee petitioned the mining company to provide water for the horses, and De Beers installed a couple of holding tanks and a water trough for the horses. Today, the borehole at Garub is maintained specifically for the horses.


Namib horses resting in the shade next to an abandoned German train station. Photo credit: Raymond June/Wikimedia


Photo credit: jbdodane/Flickr


The watering hole at Garub, with a shelter for human visitors in the background. Photo credit: Sven-Eric Kanzler/Wikimedia


Photo credit: Allan Gray/Flickr


Photo credit: Gerald de Beer/Wikimedia


Photo credit: Gerald de Beer/Flickr

Source: Wikipedia / / /


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