Desert AirFebruary 20, 2019
Demise of the Giants: The Fall of Africa’s BaobabsMarch 5, 2019
By Willie Olivier
The fate of the remaining 73 wild horses of the southern Namib is an emotional issue. So it came as no surprise that the auditorium of the Namibia Scientific Society in Windhoek was packed to capacity when the Namibian Environment and Wildlife Society (NEWS) organised a public debate on Thursday, 28 February.
Four panelists presented different perspectives of the debate which was moderated by Bertus Kruger. Manfred Goldbeck represented the Namibia Wild Horse Foundation, while Dr Chris Brown represented the Namibian Chamber of Environment (NCE). Researcher Ruben Portas spoke on behalf of the Namibian Wildlife & Environment Society (NEWS), while the Ministry of Environment and Tourism (MET) was represented by Minister Pohamba Shifeta.
Namibia Wild Horse Foundation Chairperson Manfred Goldbeck gave an overview of the history of the wild horses, as well a detailed chronology of important developments over the past century. This included attempts to obtain custodianship of the horses from MET – which was declined. Summarising his presentation, Goldbeck said the wild horse population of southern Namibia is the only population that lives in a real desert environment. These horses not only played an important role in the country’s history and have a high cultural value, but also contribute to tourism in the south, Goldbeck said.
The Namibian Chamber of Environment’s Dr Chris Brown stated emphatically that the horses are not wild, but feral. He said the spotted hyena clan living in the area is unique as the clan has the biggest home range in the world. He was of the opinion that artificial feeding contributed to some of the horse fatalities and that relocation of the hyenas was not an option as it could result in conflict with clans already occupying areas where the hyenas are released. The void left by the relocations would be filled by new clans moving in, Dr Brown said.
Dr Brown suggested that the horses should be removed from the park. The Namibia Wild Horse Foundation should be given an opportunity to find an alternative site where the horses could be kept under a custodianship agreement with MET, subject to certain conditions. Alternatively, the horses could be relocated to a community conservancy such as !Hau /Awab.
In his presentation, Ruben Portas pointed out that artificial feeding of the hyenas increase their productivity, resulting in increasing numbers and aggravating the situation. He said hyenas are difficult to catch, it is costly and that new hyenas will fill the gap when existing clans are relocated. Possible solutions include separating the horses and hyenas by fencing them off and giving custodianship of the horses to the Namibia Wild Horse Foundation.
Minister Pohamba Shifeta made it clear that the horses are state property and therefore a national asset. The Ministry of Environment and Tourism is, therefore, not in a position to enter into a custodianship agreement, which past experience has shown has its own problems. The minister also emphasised the need to consult the local community of Aus on any decision about the future of the wild horses. He said the ministry is not convinced that the removal of the horses is the correct solution. Its short-term strategy has been to remove the hyenas and to reinforce MET staff in the area to monitor the horses and especially the foals. Efforts would be made to capture and relocate the remaining three hyenas. The Ministry has, meanwhile, also come up with a long-term management plan which will be implemented in early April to safeguard the future of the horses, Minister Shifeta said.
Members of the public put forward several suggestions to solve the problem. This includes providing more drinking places for the horses on a rotational basis so that their range can be expanded.
In response to a question about the possibility of capturing part of the herd and finding an alternative safe haven for them, Dr Chris Brown said the horses have gone through several bottlenecks. They are a subset of the original population and must, therefore, be kept together.
Although the Ministry of Environment and Tourism has come up with a short-term plan and a master plan to save the horses, it appears that a long-term workable solution to safeguard the horses and the hyenas that will satisfy everybody is still a far way off.