Ancient Desert Pathways

Blending so well into their surroundings – despite their very distinctive stripes – it is often our horses that alert us to the presence of zebra. Standing in an alert posture, heads raised, big round ears rotating, sampling their surroundings. Then the suddenly the snort an alarm and off they go often crossing and re-crossing our path to keep these strange centaur-like shapes in view.

Often joining in our canters across the plains seemingly delighting in speed for the sheer fun of it. It would appear that those distinctive stripes serve as camouflage, an adaptation mimicking the ‘waviness’ of the dancing heatwaves into which they often simply disappear in the heat of the day.

Sometimes we might be lucky enough to hear that distinctive ‘e-hah’ gasp of alarm while lying awake at night looking up at the magnificent stars. Standing very still as if deciding if it’s safe to continuing along their ancestral path or risk a detour, they finally clatter off leaving us wondering if we too had shared the path they are using tonight. Mountain zebra often travel in the cool of the night - their night vision is thought to be as good as an owl’s!

These well-worn paths they use are ancient - worn by generations of animals to reach remote waterholes they might have dug themselves in the beds of ephemeral rivers. We too use these convenient paths on our horse riding safaris to traverse the stony desert surface.

Trodden deep into the calcrete pavement and mercifully devoid of stones; they invariably lead in the very direction we are travelling.

The tracks join and separate weaving their way up and down the impossibly steep sides of the Kuiseb Canyon. Were it not for these ancient pathways, finding our way through these ‘badlands’ as they are called would have been an impossible task.

Their Distinctive striped pattern, the large round ears and the dewlap under the throat distinguishes them from the plains or Burchell’s zebra.

(Image left taken by a camera trap in the Namib)

Also the absence of a shadow stripe (image of Burchell's Zebra below), the fully stripped legs, narrow torso strips and a gridiron patters of parallel stripes on the rump.

A white belly might seem to indicate this is a white animal with black stripes, but then some say the black nose indicates the opposite. Who knows….

Hunted to near extinction in the 1950’s equuas zebra hartmannae, or the Mountain zebra has now recovered in numbers to be merely ‘Vulnerable’ on the IUCN’s Red Data List. Inhabiting the arid regions of Namibia, southern Angola and the far northern Cape, this species of zebra is supremely adapted to its desert home. Their small hooves enable them to climb incredibly steep mountain and Canyon sides as they follow the rains from the escarpment down into the desert to find the new grass. We almost always encounter mountain zebra on all our riding safaris, particularly on our Namib Desert Safari where conditions are ideal on the huge plains of the central Namib.

Built for speed and endurance they live a nomadic existence and are capable of travelling incredible distances in search of water and grazing. Having few predators in these arid areas, these supremely adapted animals thrive in the dry Namib and as a result, among zebra species, these spends a lot of time at play and mutual grooming.

Much like plains zebra, stallions have harems of 1 – 5 mares with young which they defend against other stallions and predators. Most active at twilight they spend daylight hours resting and grazing.

These very iconic of African animal are always a delightful find on our riding safaris. Ever curious of our presence, they are certainly of interest to our horses in their stripy pyjamas and bristly manes.... a wonderful curiosity to us all. And we are ever grateful for their well kept ancient paths through the wilderness....

#Horseridingsafaris #NamibDesert #Namiia #Zebra

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