Hyenas and the lack of water put these horses on the brink of extinction.
Abandoned a century ago to their fate, the Namib desert wild horses have staged a fascinating survival story. Their extinction, however, could be close: hyenas and droughts have reduced them to only 74 specimens, although there were 300 horses just four years ago.
"About 104 years ago there was a horse farm on the edge of the desert. Horses were used then for working at the diamond mines," Mannfred Goldbeck, the Wild Horses Foundation Chairman, said and explained that "the farm owner was repatriated to Germany during WW1 and his horses were released."
The animals were later settled in Garub, an area where there was a railway station with access to water. For decades they galloped at their free will; however, in 1986, their territory became part of the Namib-Naukluft National Park, which has a fence limiting the horses' ability to move to other areas. Ironically, the National Park restricts the conservationists' capabilities to protect those wild animals.
Since 2013 no foal has survived to reach adulthood. Hyenas' attacks are the main cause of the equine population decline, but the 2015-2018 South African drought has contributed too.
"Around the park there are agricultural farms where hyenas find sheep to feed," Goldbeck said and explained that "when the farmers repel the hyenas, they look for the horses as source of food."
The Wild Horses Foundation proposed to Namibia's government, which is currently led by Hage Geingob, to solve the ecological problem by buying lands outside the park to relocate the animals. Although this proposal was rejected, the Government has begun to appreciate the value of the Namibs, which are a breed in their own right.
"In the past [officials] said that if horses cannot survive they should be left to die," Goldbeck reminded and added that "we are worried that there will not be a next generation of horses."