Rooisand Nature Reserve
A herd of wild horses has roamed the Bot – Kleinmond estuary and wetland for perhaps a century or more. The free roaming herd is actually feral and comprises about twenty-eight individuals. Many websites repeat the three theories about their origins, namely that they are survivors of the Birkenhead, a British troopship that foundered off Danger Point in 1852, or that they descend from Boer horses hidden in the area during the Anglo-Boer War, but their actual story is a touch more prosaic: they descend from horses abandoned in the marshes by a local farmer when mechanisation rendered draught animals obsolete at the advent of the twentieth century. A Professor Frans van der Merwe studied them for four decades and apparently they descend from the Boland waperd, or wagon horse. Of late, new genes have been brought into the herd1.
Ecologists argue that the herd fulfils an important ecological function that was once fulfilled by locally extinct, large herbivores, so that the horses should largely remain free roaming in the wetland-estuary, which is a Ramsar wetland of international importance, the Rooisand Nature Reserve in the Kogelberg Biosphere Reserve, and part of a World Heritage Site.
What herbivores once frequented the area? Explorer and botanist, William Paterson, in his book A Narrative of Four Journeys into the Country of the Hottentots, and Caffraria, describes herds of wildebeest, eland and buffalo in the Kleinmond-Hangklip area in 1777 while exploring with Captain Robert Gordon of the Dutch East India Company (VOC). In subsequent centuries, European explorers and farmers shot out these herds and all other megafauna. Their former presence is remembered in the various Dutch/Afrikaans feature and place names in the Cape like Buffelstal, Buffelsrivier, Elandspad, Olifantspad, Renosterkop, etc.
Christoph, a Rooiels neighbour and regular paddling partner, and I had decided to try and paddle from Kleinmond mouth to Bot River mouth. Wild horses were only tangentially on our minds. But it wasn’t long before we glided up upon two separate groups of horses grazing at the edge of the waters. They were relaxed and only mildly curious – and we saw not another soul. Our mission proved to be impractical soon after spotting the horses because we could not find a navigable route through the reeds and shallows. The wetland becomes a maze of dead-ends and leads. But we were elated at our “discovery”.