Distressing times …Namibia’s wild horses face extinction

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Louzel Lombard Steyn

The desert sun is setting on the wild horse population that has roamed Namibia’s Garub plains for over a hundred years as foal after foal is killed by a marauding pack of spotted hyenas. Extinction looms.

What is being done

Namibia’s Ministry of Environment and Tourism (MET) has promised to help, but inefficiency has stalled the critical intervention needed. Since 2013, when the hyenas moved into the area, the wild horse population has plummeted from 286 to a mere 77 horses. In that year alone, the hyenas killed a hundred horses, fifty of them foals.

Only now, six years on, the ministry says it has developed a ‘Wild Horses Action Plan’ to manage predation, among other issues. Three hyenas have been euthanised under this plan. Three still remain, MET spokesperson Romeo Muyunda confirms. He says MET plans to capture the remaining hyenas and move them “to another part of the [Namib-Naukluft] Park, further from the horses.”

How urgent is this matter?

The urgency of the matter resurged in November last year when the Namibia Wild Horses Foundation (NWHF) sought MET’s help to protect five foals born after the long-awaited rains in May. Months passed. Then, late last year, two attempts to bait the hyenas proved unsuccessful as “the hyenas appear to be sensitive and run from capture operators and instruments,” MET Minister Shifeta Pohamba stated.

The operation was stalled again over December and January as staff had gone away for the holidays, Muyunda says.

The delays have been fatal; almost all foals born after the rains were killed. In the past year alone more than 20 foals have been lost. And in the last five years, not one foal has survived, Christine Wulff-Swiegers from the NWHF says.

“There might be about one or two pregnant mares still, but that is about it.”

The odds are against two remaining foals, born just over a week ago. One of these foals has already been attacked and is struggling with its injuries.

“It is still uncertain if it will survive,” Wulff-Swiegers says. “The foal has a serious gash to its belly, but it looks like the wounds are improving.”

For years, the NWHF has appealed to MET to either manage the hyenas or grant the Foundation custodianship over the horses. MET has refused, saying the custodianship of the horses must remain in its care as they are a national heritage and it is the ministry’s responsibility to take care of them. Considering the dwindling numbers and zero survival rate of foals, it’s clear they’ve not honoured this responsibility up to now. 

And the last window of opportunity is closing fast.

“If the predation continues, Namibia’s wild horse population doesn’t stand a chance,” Wulff-Swiegers says. The youngest mare is already eight years old and in eight more years, she will be past her breeding age.

If no foals can be saved in time to ensure a breeding cycle for the next generation, the wild horses will become no more than a fading mirage – vanishing from the Namib plains where they have become so uniquely adapted. ‑ The South African

 

 

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