Pitted against the predatory intentions of a spotted hyena clan, the day to day existence of the Namibs is perilous. The situation has been hotly contested polarising the conservation community – there are those who are for the hyenas and support a policy of non-interference and those who strongly feel obligated towards relocating the horses to a place of safety, or moving the hyena. The debate has been going on for years without much action from the conservation authorities until recently when the plight of the horses became critical. Meetings were held between Minister Shifeta from the Ministry of Environment and Tourism (MET) and the Wild Horses Foundation last month with the MET concluding they would draw up a draft management plan, with further consultation “BY THE END OF MAY.”
Meanwhile as the weeks pass there is collective anxiety over the welfare of the remaining foal. Checking the latest Namibia Wild Horses Facebook post she is still alive and doing well. Named Zohra, – in Persian translates as “flower blossom” or in Arabic “Venus, jewel of the sky” which is so aptly descriptive of the white flash on her forehead.
Returning some months to the scenes on 22 February we watched, poised at the viewing site above the waterhole as pairs of horses came into view. The first little foal looked very vulnerable, staying close to mother’s side –
We learned that it had been attacked by spotted hyenas (an injury which looked to be healing, was visible just above the belly on the left side), though it appeared to be coping.
As they moved off after drinking at the waterhole, the little one fell behind, lagging some distance. Concern for it’s well being was justified as shortly afterwards this precious creature did not survive.
The second foal was smaller than the first, coming in on ungainly legs. There she was – little Zohra with her mother Zen.
Into the waterhole she trotted, getting under underfoot and not quite too sure where she should stand.
Tough drought conditions and hyena predation have taken a drastic toll on the wild horses and their numbers have dropped tragically from 286 to 76 over the last few years. Sadly, since 2012 and up until late February, none of the foals have survived and the youngest mare is now 8 years old. Yet could there be the slimmest chance that the wild horses can come back from the brink of extinction? Hope now rests with February’s newborn foal, a little filly, just a couple of months old ……..
But let me pick up the story where i left off in the previous post!
As the horses drew closer to the water trough it appeared to us there was raucous delight in their greetings, upbeat nickering and neighing. From a distance we could hear the thrum of galloping and watched in awe as a group of bachelor stallions came roaring in, stirring up dust clouds and arriving in a swirl of energy.
The scene was filled with their dynamic presence. After slaking their thirst, it was time to sandbathe and attend to additional dietary needs by feeding on nutrient-rich dried manure. Coprophagy is a natural behaviour and an energy-efficient way of deriving nutrients. The Wild Horses’ manure contains almost three times more fat than the area’s dry grass (Stipagrostis obtusa) and almost twice as much protein (6.1 instead of 3.1%).*
To give a contrasting glimpse at the hardships and the tough conditions which the Wild Namibs endure at the edge of the Namib-Nauklauft desert, here are a couple of shots taken in 2017. Drought seared the land and the animals were so pitifully emaciated, but for the dedicated work undertaken by the Namibia Wild Horses Foundation, it is doubtful whether they would survive. Through the years the foundation has raised finances to provide supplementary feed for the horses as well as pursuing with dogged determination negotiations with the Namibian MET (Ministry of Environment and Tourism) in saving the herd from extinction.
Further details in my next post will reveal “Zohra, the Little Foal”. Keep a lookout it’s coming soon! Below is a link to the Namibia Wild Horses Foundation and the critical work which they undertake.
Dawn crept in across the desert plain catching the gossamer dust clouds in a golden light. The spellbinding scene cast a sense of elation as the wild horses drew closer. We were at the Garub viewing terrace following their trail in anxious anticipation as they neared the borehole water site. We’d heard that they were in reasonable shape after low rainfall had resuscitated the grass and foraging opportunities had improved. Small family groups kept together, and we could make out the figures of two small foals. Lone stallions came from different directions keeping a distance from the small herds.
They are recognised as a separate breed, the “Namibs” after 100 or so years of their blood lines merging through natural selection across the generations. Elegant and long-limbed, they’re handsome creatures. Living free on the plains of the eastern edge of the Namib-Nauklauft desert, has it’s challenges. Their story of survival in this unforgiving environment is one that evokes awe, but are the odds stacked against them as their numbers dwindle and predation by the spotted hyaena is a continued threat?
Here’s the scene: In lush contrast to the desert regions of Namibia, the Zambezi Region (Caprivi) is a tropical wetlands area. Namushasha River Lodge is set on the banks of the Kwando river on the curve of an oxbow lake, where pods of hippos wallow in muddy grandeur. It’s rich riverine ecology extends beyond the dense stands of Jackalberry and Mangosteen trees over extensive reedbeds to the distant game-spattered floodplains.
Waiting for table service
On the banks of the Kwando River
It’s bounded on all side by wild game parks and it’s up there in the rank of ‘coolness’ not just for its shady campsites but for it’s splendid setting and gorgeous lodge facilities, swimming pool and watering hole.
A walk along the path at the edge of the river revealed an unexpected encounter (there are warning signs to watch out for crocodiles and hippos, though fortunately avoided). The sound of leaves rustling gave them away……
Little faces peeked down at me as a gathering of vervet monkeys (Cercopithecus pygerythrus) came to assess this other primate intruder: friend or foe? The alpha male bared his teeth, signalling his status. Averting eye contact, i sat quietly wondering what would happen next.
Their curiosity won out and soon they had descended from their leafy domain to forage in the leaf litter below. Keeping a discreet distance my presence appeared not to bother them and i was able to keenly observe their long limbed grace and agility. Predominantly they’re found in savannah woodland, but here they’ve settled in this paradise alongside the fruit trees and breakfast options at the lodge.
I’ve been away for some months and am now happily back online and looking forward to checking in again on fellow bloggers.
A chance to revisit Namibia at a slow pace, traveling the back routes, camping mainly and stopping at destinations way off the beaten track has been a compelling experience for me. Becoming so immersed in nature – learning the scent of the land, it’s voices, the revelation of the night skies, the heart thumping exhilaration of hearing nocturnal wildlife close by adds up to a “stop-the-world-i-want-to-get off” kind of destination.
Here’s a dip into the first scenes of this immense and timeless place –
Namibia is an extraordinary country, the expanse of it’s panoramic vistas stretch way into the far distance, seductive in pastel colours, so tantalising as the horizons pleat and fold.
As we traveled through different biomes: desert, savannah, tree and shrublands, to the wetlands of the Zambezi area the contrasts in ecosystems and habitats were distinct. Hope you’ll join me as a post further stories; coming up soon …..