Namibia’s wild horses – new hope

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A controversial move by the Namibian government has given the wild horses of the Garub Plains a second chance at survival, writes Louzel Lombard Steyn…

Zohra and sire Kilo
enjoy a moment. It’s rare for fillies to bond with their sire rather than their dam. Photo: NWHF

Fact file

• Legend has it that Union troops set up camp at Garub during WWI. The Germans bombed the encampment, scattering the army’s horses. Some of the animals survived by adapting to the
desert environment.

• 77: The wild horse population plummeted from 286 to only 77 horses between 2013 and 2019.

• Zohra is Persian for ‘flower blossom’ and Arabic for ‘Venus, the jewel of the sky’. The new filly has a jewel-like star on her forehead.

• The Garub horses have a complex social structure. The core of a herd is made up of a breeding group of one or two stallions, several mares and their foals. Stallions from casual bachelor groups are occasionally tolerated in the herd. These ‘outsiders’ or ‘peripheral stallions’ may follow a herd for several years, but are not permitted to interact with the adult mares in the group.

There is new cause for optimism among the wild horses of Namibia – the first two foals to survive in six years now roam the Garub Plains alongside the surviving herd.

With the summer rains on the way, new life suggests the luck of these desert-adapted horses may now
have turned.

A few months ago, extinction loomed as a marauding pack of spotted hyenas killed foal after foal. When the predators moved into the Garub region in 2013, the horses’ numbers plummeted from 286 to a mere 77; no foal could survive.

 

The wild horses of the Garub. Photo: Telané Greyling

In March 2019, a controversial intervention by the Namibian Ministry of Environment and Tourism (MET) gave the horses a window of opportunity.

Three hyenas were euthanased while three more were then relocated to another region within
the Namib-Naukluft National Park.

In August, MET issued a new draft management plan, formally recognising the tourism and ecological value of the Garub horses. The plan aims to include the horses as a resident species of the region. According to spokesperson Romeo Muyunda, the plan will be launched officially in October 2019.

The herd’s newest additions, a filly named Zohra and a colt named Mirage, arrived at just the right moment.
Their first months of life coincided with widespread rains, which secured water and grazing for the foals
and their mums.

Zohra’s natal group are eight-year-old stallion Kilo and his two mares Zen (Zohra’s dam) and Meredith, who is pregnant. The first foals were born in September, while most will arrive around December. Photo: The NWHF

According to the Namibia Wild Horses Foundation (NWHF), predation on the horses has not occurred since February 2019. But this could change at any moment, says NWHF spokesperson Christine Wulff-Swiegers.

“There are still four hyenas in the area, coming and going – we will have to monitor the situation closely when new foals are born and report back to the ministry.”

MET previously denied a proposal to hand over management of the horses to the NWHF, saying the Garub horses were the property of the state, to be managed by MET.

As part of the new action plan, the ministry will rezone the Garub area of the Namib-Naukluft Park and Tsau //Khaeb National Park (formerly known as the Sperrgebiet National Park) as a multi-use area, which will hopefully result in more effective management.

 

The condition of the horses has improved considerably following the recent rains. Photo: Telané Greyling

“We are confident that, once approved, the strategy will serve in the preservation of the horses and empower the people around those areas through tourism concessions,” Muyunda says.

The NWHF has offered assistance with the development of the action plan. There are currently 73 horses, consisting of 31 mares, 40 stallions and 2 foals. Several pregnant mares are expected to foal from September 2019 until February 2020. Most will arrive in December 2019.

Hopefully, this will coincide with the summer rainfall cycle, which will stimulate new grass. “With Zohra and Mirage still alive and growing, there is hope,” Wulff-Swiegers says.

“It looks promising that both will make it and it is very good that Zohra is a mare, as the number of mares is quite low,” she adds. “However, the real hope will only come when the new season’s foals survive and the group can grow again significantly.”

 

Written by Louzel Lombard Steyn

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