Namibia—a vast country of over 825,000 square kilometers with a population of less than 2.6 million people—may not be the place that springs to mind when one thinks of wild horses. But the country, or more specifically its famous Namib Desert, is home to an estimated 90 - 150 of them. The Namib Desert horses are likely the only herd of feral horses in Africa and one of the most isolated horse populations in the world.
Despite studies of the population, the origins of these horses are not known for certain. They are most likely descendants of breeding stock and cavalry horses—many from German breeding programs—that escaped or were released into the wild in the early 20th century, particularly during the First World War.
The horses travel in bands as small as two animals, but often in larger groups. They are most genetically similar to the Arabian horse. Their average range is 34 square kilometers and they must travel as far as 20 kilometers between water and grazing sources.
So what of the future of the horses? The horses face a number of challenges including drought, food resources, predation by spotted hyenas, and a certain amount of horse/human conflict (horses are occasionally hit by cars as they cross the roads). The Namibia Wild Horses Foundation was formed in 2012 to monitor the horse population and environmental conditions of the horses to provide information to the Ministry of Environment, Forestry, and Tourism. The aim of the foundation is to advise and assist the government in appropriately managing the wild horse population to ensure its health and prosperity for years to come.
Know Before You Go
The best way to explore Namibia’s vastness and pay a visit to the wild horses is by self-drive safari car, or as part of an organized tour. Public transport is available but the distances between places can be huge and accessing the country’s incredibly remote areas will be tricky without a private vehicle. Helpfully, navigation on the few roads that crisscross the country is easy enough.
The horses can usually be spotted from the road in the Garud Plains, near the small town of Aus (also home to a delightfully well-stocked ‘one stop’ shop). The Garud watering hole (signposted/ask local residents for directions) is another place the horses can often be seen and also a great location for an al fresco breakfast in the world’s oldest desert.