In a six week exploration of Namibia there were many highlights but few as bizarre as our encounter with Namibia’s Wild Horses. There we were on the northern boundary of the Sperrgebiet, source of Namibia’s diamond wealth, heading west to the old German Port of Luderitz. The terrain is barren, through to lunar. As we drive into the gravel parking area the sun is descending to our left. We had been told this is the best time to see these amazing creatures. We left the car and were pleasantly surprised not to be assaulted by the ubiquitous sticky flies. No flies? Then how can horses live here? But, within minutes they appear. In single file they follow a curving, well-worn track to the water hole trotting sedately, as the temperature demands. Then they catch the scent of water and the younger members kick up their back legs and accelerate. It’s now a race to the pub; last one there buys the drinks!
The waterhole, fed by a bore, is the only human intervention into the horses’ survival since they first arrived in the Namib Desert – about 100 years earlier. Since then, they have survived on poor vegetation and uncertain water supply as a population varying between 80 and 160 members.
How did they get there? Some say they were military horses, left behind when troops were called back to Germany at the outbreak of WW1. Others say they were work horses used in diamond mining who escaped into the wild. Perhaps the zaniest theory of all concerns an eccentric German aristocrat by the name of Baron Captain Hans Heinrich von Wolf.
The Baron commissioned an architect by the name of Willie Sander to design a castle that would reflect the Baron’s commitment to the German military cause. “Duwisib Castle” is located in the Namib Desert, some 330 kms due east of Luderitz - where much of the castle building material arrived from Germany. Duwisib was completed in 1909, when the Baron returned to Germany to woo his bride Jayta Humphreys and bring her home to Duwisib. Jayta was daughter of the U.S Consul to Dresden; so heaven knows how she adapted to life in the Namib Desert after the finery of high society in Dresden during the first decade of the 20th century!
When WW1 broke out, the Baron made his way back to Germany, arriving in spring 1915, only to be blown up two weeks later at the battle of the Somme. On hearing of her husband’s death, Jayta promptly said “that’s it, the mad old coote’s dead, I’m out of here.” In her haste to get back to civilisation, there was no time to organise repatriation of the Baron’s herd of thoroughbred horses, so she just opened the stable doors and sent them into nature.
And in the Spartan environment of the Garub, these magnificent creatures live, love and play in complete freedom and to the enormous pleasure of all who visit them at sunset.
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