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WILD HORSES IN THE NAMIBIA DESERT. Horses are not native to Sub-Saharan Africa and it was the Dutch who first brought them to the Cape in the 17 century. It would be at least another hundred years

 

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Wild Horse of the South Namib at Garup

 

If you're travelling in the south of Namibia, and you're into equines, the Wild Horses of the Namib Desert will surely be a treat for you. You'll find them at a place called Garup, about 20km west of Aus near to the main B4 road to Luderitz. It's well signed and after driving along a gravel road for about a kilometre, you will come to a shaded viewing point.

 

Horses are not native to Sub-Saharan Africa and it was the Dutch who first brought them to the Cape in the 17 century. It would be at least another hundred years before the first white explorer traders crossed the Gariep, the Orange River, into Namibia, where, at the time, the favoured method of transport was the sturdy African riding ox. Then came the Germans, whom I suppose, deemed the riding-ox to be a bit undignified and thus the mass imports of equines. Records indicate that between the years of 1904 and the outbreak of the Great War the Germans shipped in about 31,000 horses and 34,000 mules through the port of Swakopmund alone. They introduced stud farms stocked with good blood and soon the horses soon began playing their part in our country's early years of development. But, this association with the settlers was to be short-lived as the introduction of mechanised transportation in the form of rail and automobiles with their economics soon relegated the horse to being more of an occasional worker. Many years later stories began to be told around camp fires and over a beer or two in a bar about remote herds of wild horses having been seen in the deep south Namib Desert. And then came the question, "How do they survive in such harsh conditions? In winter the temperatures drop well below zero, while in summer they can reach the mid-forties. Where do they find water, and what do they eat in the times of drought?" And, then came the question, "Where did they come from?"

 

Wild Horses Namibia Road Sign - Caution Wild Horses Namibia on B4 Road near Garup
Caution Wild Horses On The Road
 

There are several theories ranging from horse transport ships having ran aground off the Namibian or Namaqualand coast, to horses that had simply 'escaped' from farms, and then there were those that had somehow been released from 'military service' either by the Germans or South Africa troops. Whatever, they have over a period of about 100 years survived and mutated into a breed that understands the rules of survival of the South Namib Desert and this raised an amount of scientific interest. The horses have been the subject of an amount of study over the past couple of decades and at Garup which lays about 20km west of Aus, a bore hole supplying water troughs is where a conveniently positioned herd have settled and can be viewed. My most recent visit was in May 2008, following a good rainy season. It was mid-day and the horses were not very active, many laid on their sides resting whilst others chomped busily on the abundance of light 

pastel green desert grass. I watched a plume of dust following a large tour bus as it trundled its way along the gravel path

to the small parking area. The eager visitors decanted from the bus and jostled to get a good camera angle. The horses around the drinking troughs, some 2oom away were visibly, neither impressed or shy. The covered viewing 'shed' has informative posters that explain the various habits of the animals etc. and it was interesting to read that during hot summer periods, which would experience temperatures well in excess of 35c they last for about 30 hours between drinking water, whereas in winter months they have been known to go for up to 72hours. The horses supplement their diet of desert grass by simply eating their own dung in a proportion of about 7 to 1. The dung contains up to three times more fat (1.99%) and almost twice as much protein (6,1%) as desert grass.

 

My previous visit to see the horses was a couple of years ago and was before the rains. I was travelling along the B4 during early evening as the sun was setting. The horses were along the roadside playing in the cool of the day, it was a wonderful sight to see them galloping and prancing, and it was there that I knew I would have to buy myself a camera with a decent zoom lens. Hopefully that will be this year.

 

If you're planning to include 'the horses' in your trip you might consider staying over in Aus at Either The Bahnhof Hotel or the Klein Aus Vista lodge / camp site.

 
Wild Horses Namibia Mare in foal Wild Horses Namibia Pronking Wild Horses Namibia at Garup grazing area

 

On a personal note.

It was shortly after arriving in Namibia during the mid-seventies that I heard tales of the mysterious and elusive herds of wild horses that roamed across the vast and empty areas of the deep south Namib Desert. But, it would not be until the mid-eighties that I would first stumble across such a herd very early one morning whilst driving along one of those long dusty and empty roads in a mountainous area of the deep south. The sun had just peered over the horizon and was shining directly down the road into my face and I could not see to drive. It made sense to stop and have a coffee from my flask until it had risen a few degrees, and then I could continue. I climbed out of my bakkie (pick-up truck) and took my first sip of coffee when I noticed that I was not alone, and the subject of scrutiny from a herd of about twelve Wild Hoses of the Namib. Many of the females were heavy with foal. Their stallion shook his head and took a few steps towards me to check me out. His nostrils flared and I think he smelled both a man and possibly his first whiff of coffee. I don't know if you're a 'horse person' like me, but as we looked into each others eyes. I greeted him with,

"You've got quite a responsibility, mate, looking after a herd in this desolate place. It's winter time and dry as a bone and the land around here looks as barren as Hell to me, but I suppose it sure beats having to wear a bridle or harness. You look a bit ruffled as your coat hasn't been groomed and now I can even see a couple of scars gained from fights. You horses have been good to man, and not all of you have been treated with the care and respect you should have had from us. You've carried our loads and you've died in battle with us, but here in the wastelands of Namibia you are free and that's how horses should be." He turned, but kept an eye on me and answered,

"That's a fact, and I'm even freer than you. OK you've been and you've seen, but go away and don't make too much noise when you do. We're having our breakfast and you weren't invited." So, I downed my coffee and drove away, quietly.

 

Local Area Attractions & Articles of Associated Interest:

Accommodation

Aus POW Camp

Aus Military Cemetary Wild Horses at Garup Map Directions
 
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