Photo album Wild horses of the Namib

The legendary wild horses of the Namib (and the only wild desert-dwelling horses in the world) can be seen along the main B4 road between Aus and Luderitz. There are two main versions how these horses occurred in the area: they are descendants of the horse stud which belonged to baron Von Wolf who built Duwisib Castle or descendants of the horses left by German Schutztruppe in 1915 when they abandoned Aus. Another much prosaic theory suggests that the horses once belonged to a farms in the area from where they ran into the desert.
There are about 90 of these animals at the moment. The prolonged drought and scarce grazing are the main reason for the decline in population. The feeding program has been launched in 1998 until January 2000 when conditions improved due to good rains that fell in the area. There is permanent water supply at Garub maintained by the Ministry of Tourism.
Before feeding program commenced the population was estimated at approximately 150 horses.
There are, however, several advantages for horses in the area: dry climate which is parasite free and protection they have due to living in restricted Diamond Area 1 keeping away poachers.

The most common color of the Namib desert horse is bay, although there are a few chestnut horses. There are occasional individuals with dorsal striping but no zebra stripes. No other colors have been recorded.

Genetics

Genetic testing results published in 2001 indicated that Namib Desert Horses are one of the most isolated horse populations in the world, with the second-lowest genetic variation of all horse populations that have been studied to date. In part, this is due to their small founding population, and generally small modern population, made smaller during periods of drought.

On Cothran's Family Tree of Horse breeds, they fall in the Arabian group, nearest the Shagya Arabian, a horse breed from Hungary that had been imported into colonial German South-West Africa. However, though the horses have a genetic similarity to Arabian-type horses, they do not closely resemble them in outward appearance. Further, in blood typing studies done in the 1990s, a new variant was noted. Its absence from the blood samples of all other horse breeds indicates the presence of a mutation that probably occurred after the horses became established in the desert.

Daily Life

The Namib desert horse usually live in herds of up to ten animals, consisting of one or, occasionally, two stallions with a few mares and foals. These are the breeding groups. There are also 'bachelor' groups. The breeding groups are led by a mare. The lead mare decides when to go, stop, choose another grazing spot, and when to go to a water source.

There are few natural predators in the area, other than the Hyena, which poses a threat primarily to foals. When a foal is threatened, it is usually the mare that is the mother of the foal who defends her young. The stallion will deal with threats to the entire herd, though in many cases, the stallion primarily keeps bachelor animals away. There are few serious fights, most are for show.

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