Friday, April 8, 2011

Feral Horses Of The Namib Desert

I've traveled the road between Aus and Lüderitz in southern Namibia a number of times and seen the roadsigns warning of the presence of Wild Horses but, I've never seen any of the animals themselves.

On my recent trip to the sea I spotted a lone horse grazing in the distance - I felt lucky, I'd finally seen one of the famed Wild Horses.

In the background is Dicke Wilhelm - Fat Wilhelm - a prominent mountain on the flat landscape, upon which a German Heliograph station was located in the early 1900s.

Garub is a bore-hole and watering trough about 20 kms west of Aus. It was originally established to provide water for locomotives on the nearby, (now unused), railway line.

The water point is situated about 1 kilometer from the main road, with a sheltered spot for visitors to observe the horses.

Three days later, on my return from the sea I was even luckier - scattered in the area around Garub there were about 40 to 50 animals, grazing close to the road and in the distance.

Two Wild Horses stand by a telephone pole.

Modern electronic communication has made this line redundant and I expect the poles will be removed sometime.

A group of horses crossed the road ahead of me.

To the left (north) of the road is the Namib Naukluft Park and to the right is the Sperrgebiet - Forbidden Area - forbidden because of the wealth of Diamonds to be found here. Unauthorized entry into this area can result in arrest and a prison sentence.

Personally, this draconian control of land by a Corporation irritates the anarchist in me but, the upside is that a vast area of land still remains in pristine condition, unspoilt by the presence of Man.

Horses are not indigenous to Namibia and there is much speculation as to the origin of these animals, which have been roaming free in the desert for almost 100 years.

You can find a summary of the various theories here.

The most plausible theory is that a core group was left behind by South African troops in 1915 as they advanced Eastwards against German forces at the outbreak of World War One.

Although some of the animals look a bit scruffy because they are not groomed like domestic horses, they generally seem to be in good condition.

It's estimated that there are about 150 animals roaming the area around Garub - looking at the sparse, poor grazing, it is indeed fascinating how these animals have adapted and survive in this harsh landscape.

Additional links:

Fighting For A Life In Freedom


Wild Horses Of The Namib



  1. Thank You for this woderful article and the photos. On T V they always show us starving animald with all their bones showing and little foals dying. Your photos show beautiful animals which all look well fed. Thank you so much, wish I had been there with you to see them all myself.

  2. Thankyou for sharing ..beautiful creatures. I think that your blog has possibilities.. there is a book in the making.everything I know about Namibia I have learned from your posts. And again your photos and landscapes really inspire me.

  3. Thanks for your visit and comment Vernon ...

    ... yes, up close one can see how sparse the grass cover is and that the grass itself is pale and lacking in nutrients ... it is indeed surprising to see how healthy the horses are ... except for a few battle scars the animals are in fine condition.

  4. Thank you Graham for sharing with us your country, a place, if without you, we might never see.

    The landscape is so beautiful, the grass makes it mystical, magical but not like we normally see on tv "magic". I think of the single horse you saw the first time, I think of the family of the horses with the baby in tow. I think of their history.

    This is a very special post, I don't have the words to describe it, it may even sound corny. I just want to say thank you.

  5. Thank you Monica - I'm hoping that my posts will eventually inspire some of my friends to visit Namibia ...

    ... and, I have another surprise for You regarding Garub, the watering point but, I'll save that for another post ... :)

  6. Thank you Fazlisa ... it thrills me when a post of mine evokes emotions in others ...

    ... the Desert is a magical place indeed ... I don't know how many times I've said that it fills me with a strange sense of power, awareness and gazing into the distance makes my heart burst with joy and wonder at the beauty of Creation ...

  7. Graham thanks for sharing this with us. I am really happy to hear that there are still horses roaming wild there. They all look pretty good but then of course it is the end of your summer. Quite late for a foal to be around but I hope it survives the winter with the lack of rain and grazing. Great photos. Diane

  8. Thank you Diane, I saw three or four foals amongst the scattered group ... there are contingency plans to provide them with hay in times of drought ...

    ... I was singing that old song by America as I was writing the post: "I've been through the desert on a horse with no name ..."

    ... it's nice to see unbroken horses, horses with no names ...

  9. How eternally surprising nature is that these animals just multiplied from back during WWI. I do love horses, and of course particularly foals.
    Actually it sent me on a long visit back through your blog, listening to Johnny Clegg, learning about your days in the mines and about Namaqualand, one of my must-see destinations as a photographer. I've wanted to go there SO badly since my parents lived in Jo'burg in the 80s and they had a marvellous holiday there once, coming back with an astonishing selection of pictures.
    As Aurora says, it's a lovely way to learn about Namibia through your posts.

  10. Thank you Caroline - and thanks for wading through some of my past posts ...

    ... I must confess here that I'm not too keen on horses close-up - horses don't like me - the only time I've tried to ride one I was thrown within about five seconds ... I've also been bitten and had my foot stomped on ... they probably sense my fear ...

  11. Unbelievable photos! And how your desert looks so much like the terrain around here. I know you've said that before. We have wild horses too,up in the hills by the wind turbines. Here they call them Wild Mustangs. Your horses look like they are doing very well in the desert.--Inger

  12. Thanks Inger - according to some of the links I posted, their numbers have been reduced during years of extreme drought and in the past some have also been caught and transferred to farms in order to reduce pressure on the environment - they seem to recover quickly enough though ..

  13. Good photos and read as usual. We have had a similar problem recently in South Wales;

    yours look happier!

  14. Thanks Dave ... and thanks for the link - I guess that the horses in question don't have a large area in which they can roam and forage ...

    You and Hazel must be getting pretty excited about your coming holiday - are your suitcases packed yet?

  15. Fantastic post, Graham. This post really struck a chord with me. I'm not a horse rider or lover per se but there is something magical to me about wild horses. I was fascinated about these ones because in all my travels to Africa, I've only ever seen one horse. That was in Kenya and a high point for me. I was going to ask where did these horses come from and you answered it, sort of ;-)

  16. Thanks Penny - I'm surprised that you've only seen one horse in Africa ... there are a number of stud farms here in Namibia horse riding, show jumping and dressage are big here ...

  17. It was your lucky day and ours too to spot horses. Beautiful creatures. Long may they roam and keep well.

  18. Fascinating story about the horses, and sad to hear that the train is no more. On my first (and only) trip to Luederitz (more than 40 years ago) we passed the train snaking among the mountains. The Methodist minister arrived on the train (from Keetmanshoop) and we attended his service, in the Anglican Church. He said he preferred the train, because if the wind got up it sandblasted the paint off his car on the journey. Perhaps the road is tarred now. And perhaps you might enjoy this, about your part of the world In the steps of Fred Green | Hayes & Greene family history.

  19. Hello Keats - yes there have been arguments as to whether or not the horses should be left here - some conservationists claiming that the horses might affect the natural vegetation and compete with indigenous animals - however, studies seem to indicate that their impact on the environment is minimal so it seems that the horses are safe in their freedom ...

  20. Howzit Steve - the railway line is in the process of being rehabilitated but the govt has run out of funds so nothing is happening at the moment ... the road to Luderitz is tarred now but when the wind blows hard it still sandblasts your car ...

    ... thanks for your link, a very interesting read ...

    ... are you aware that 'Mad' Smith died about two years ago?

    It was also interesting reading about how you were deported from SWA because I remember the strike you mentioned well ... it happened soon after I first arrived in the country ...

    thanks again

  21. Into last 72 hour countdown, packing plan agreed but do on Monday. Car windows cleaned, screen wash full, tyres pumped, spare tyre loaded (mine and the car). Now knackered and time for siesta.

  22. Heh! ... don't forget your hat ... and camera ... :)

  23. As usual, very nice snaps of those elegant gentlemen called horses. Thanks Graham once more! Regards!

  24. not yet Dave ... I'm going back north at the end of next week ... hoping that he followed Mutt back from where he cam from and that he'll come back with him again ...

  25. I understand we have some wild horses roaming the west but I have never seen them. Great pictures and thanks for the lesson on Heliograph.

  26. amazing, this brings to me memories from my childhood!

  27. Thanks for your visit and comment Ola.

  28. I'm sorry to learn of the death of J.M. (Jakkals Mal) Smith. He was one of the interesting characters, especially on the phone in the days when he was trying to talk to correspondents in Gochas, Stampriet or Rundu and the line died on him.

  29. Yes, he was an interesting character and fearless reporter Steve ...

    ... like all of us he had his faults and, at times, I found him to be pretty mean and vindictive ...

    ... he died from Parkinsons or Altzheimers ... I can't remember which.

  30. Amazing photographs, very interesting blog. My dad is Vernon Whittal.

  31. Thanks for your visit and kind comment Lilly - your Dad is a very interesting character ... I love his stories ...