Where to with the animals?

Was the killing of hyenas in the Garub the right decision to protect the Wild Horses? Was this deed morally defendable? And is this actually the right way to protect the horses in the long term? Various experts met to discuss these and other issues.

10 March 2019 | Environment

Windhoek • Nina Cerezo

Following the recent culling of hyenas to save the Wild Horses of the Garub, environment minister Pohamba Shifeta repeatedly referred to the act as a “short-term solution” aimed at “winning some time for the horses”. After all, the Wild Horse Management Plan is still in a development phase, which will eventually safeguard the long-term existence of the horses.

Until then though, “we will fight by any means to ensure that every foal survives from now on,” he said.

Shifeta made this statement at a panel discussion held by the Scientific Society in the capital last week.

Various stakeholders were in attendance, some questioning the action taken by the ministry on several levels.

One example is Ruben Portas of the Namibian Environment and Wildlife Society (NEWS), who is campaigning for the peaceful coexistence between wild animals and is against human intervention. “What is the purpose of a national park when animals are killed there? Is this consistent with what these protected areas are intended to serve?” he wanted to know.

In the same vein, the managing director of the Namibian Chamber of Environmental Dr Chris Brown, said that spotted hyenas are just as endangered as the horses. He explained that these animals can only survive in protected areas and not on farmland at all.

“In Namibia, there are only between 500 and 600 of these animals [hyenas] left,” Brown said, adding that their chances of survival following a relocation are “extremely unlikely” since they would either be expelled or attacked. “If we do this, we're just shifting the problem,” Brown said.

Relocating horses?

Thus, both Portas and Brown are of the opinion that relocating the hyenas will not accomplish the desired goal. “So it's the horses that need to find a new home,” Brown opined.

He even spoke of the “extreme cruelty” of keeping hoofed animals – which can hardly be described as wild– in such a dry area “just for the benefit of a few people living there”. The most rain this area receives on average in March, is just 15 mm, Brown said.

Mannfred Goldbeck, chairman of the Wild Horses Foundation, also feels the resettlement of horses would deliver the desired solution. In actual fact, he said that just a few years ago this plan was the intention given that a farmer near Aus agreed to take the animals. “But the horses belong to the state and we have not received the go-ahead from the line ministry,” he said.

Goldbeck therefore requested that the minister rethink the idea of the often-requested and repeatedly rejected “guardianship” programme for the animals.

Shifeta, however, expressed his doubt about this concept, which is also used for the protection of black rhinos. “People don't stick to the agreements,” Shifeta said, and pointed out that the killing of “problem animals” under certain conditions is “legal”.

Tourism value

Moreover, the minister considers the resettlement of horses as inappropriate because their current location contributes significantly to the ­tourism sector of nearby communities. “And we cannot ignore these communities in the solution,” Shifeta said.

Goldbeck agreed with this point, saying these are the only horses in the world that have survived in a desert and that there is already a considerable relationship between tourism and the horses.

Brown has a different opinion: “I do not know anybody travelling to Namibia just because of the Wild Horses, so we would not lose any visitors,” he said. “They are of little value to tourism.”

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