Life in Nambia
Fighting for a life in freedom
They hold an irresistible fascination: the Wild Horses of the Namib in south-western Namibia. For centuries their origin was shrouded in mystery. Their habitat, the barren plains around Garub on the eastern fringe of the Namib Desert, is no paradise; nevertheless they have managed to adapt to the harsh conditions. Their forebears, once in the service of man, gained freedom for themselves: a life in the vastness of the Namib, away from human civilization, according to the rules of their own horse society. Perhaps this is the reason for the fascination of thousands of visitors every year. Plans for moving the herd to farms have been discarded by now: it has been decided that also in future the horses’ place is in Namib Naukluft Park.
Life in Russia
Horses were domesticated 6,000 years ago on the grasslands of Ukraine, southwest Russia and west Kazakhstan, a genetic study shows. Domestic horses then spread across Europe and Asia, breeding with wild mares along the way, research published in the journal PNAS suggests. The work, by a Cambridge University team, brings together two competing theories on horse domestication. The matter has been hotly contested by scientists. Archaeological evidence suggests horses were tamed in the western part of the Eurasian Steppe (Ukraine, southwest Russia and west Kazakhstan). Experts think they were used for riding, and as a source of meat and milk. However, these archaeological clues– such as traces of horse milk found in ancient pots from the western Eurasian Steppe – are at odds with evidence from mitochondrial DNA. These studies suggest domestication happened in many places across Europe and Asia. The new study looked at nuclear DNA samples taken from 300 horses living in eight countries in Europe and Asia. Genetic data was fed into computer models developed to look at different scenarios for domestication. Dr Vera Warmuth from the Department of Zoology at Cambridge said: “It shows that horse domestication originated in the western part of the Steppes and that the spread of domestication involved lots of integration of wild horses.” The theory explains why evidence from mitochondrial DNA – which contains genes inherited solely from the mother – suggests horses were domesticated many times, in different places. In fact, it appears that wild mares were used to re-stock herds of existing domesticated horses, perhaps because they did not breed easily in captivity. This is the case with Przewalski’s horse, which is the closest wild relative of modern horses.