Two tragic road accidents that occurred in less than a week and left two of Fisherhaven’s famous wild horses dead, have yet again raised questions about the wellbeing and long-term survival of this unique group of feral animals.
While many argue that the accidents were avoidable and lay blame at the foot of the Overstrand Municipality, others are convinced that the presence of the horses in a residential neighbourhood is becoming increasingly dangerous for residents, motorists – and the horses.
The first incident occurred on Friday evening 29 March, when a VW bus traveling on the Middlevlei Road (an extension of Church Street, Hawston that runs through to Fisherhaven, where it links up with Farm Road), collided with a pregnant mare and two foals near the Meerensee turn-off, leaving the mare dead and one of the foals injured. The mare was known to locals as Star. Miraculously, the driver, allegedly a Hawston resident, and his three passengers escaped serious injury.
Dr. Christo Frick of the Fisherhaven Neighbourhood Watch, who was a first responder on the scene of both accidents, says he was shocked by the extensive damage to the VW bus and the fact that the mare was lying more than 400m away.
“The mare appeared to have been hit from behind and the severity of the impact strongly suggested that speeding and possibly reckless driving played a part,” says Christo. “It is a dangerous stretch of road as it is very dark and in urgent need of street lights, but our appeals to the authorities for better lighting, signage and speed bumps have fallen on deaf ears. About 18 months ago a 14-year-old jogger was also run over and killed on this same road.”
In the second incident less than a week later, a stallion known as Streetfighter was killed when it collided with a car on Farm Road on Thursday evening 4 April. According to Christo, he had been called out to investigate reports of gunshot and cars racing across a field shortly before the accident.
“I found the stallion, Streetfighter, lying in a ditch. The car’s whole windscreen had been crushed and the driver and two passengers, visitors to the area, were severely shocked but fortunately unharmed. They said the horse had appeared out of nowhere and attempted to jump over the car. It definitely sounds as though he had been spooked by something, possibly gunshots or a vehicle backfiring.”
According to Christo, the increase in gang-related crime and gun violence in the area has become a serious problem. “The horses are not the problem. They have never harmed anyone before and we have co-existed in harmony for many years.”
Someone who begs to differ, however, is Robin Perrins, who has owned property in Fisherhaven for 30 years and settled there permanently six years ago. He has served the community in various capacities, including as a Ward 8 committee member and chair of both the Fisherhaven Ratepayers’ Association and the Bot River Estuary Forum.
“Before retiring, I’d been a farmer for 27 years and horses have always been a part of my life,” he says. “The problem with the Fisherhaven herd is that there are too many stallions. When the mares come into season, a rivalry between the stallions escalates and there is vicious fighting. Certain people are trying to blame speeding motorists, but the truth of the matter is that the horses have become a threat on our roads. When they are agitated or frightened, there is no knowing which way they’ll run. They pose a serious risk, especially after dark, on the Fisherhaven roads and also on the R43.”
There are various fanciful tales about the origins of the Rooisand horses, but the most plausible is that their distant forebears were farm horses, known as the Bolandse Waperd, a distinct offshoot of the famous Cape Horse of the 18th and 19th centuries.
The Fisherhaven group came from the main Rooisand herd on the Kleinmond side, which historically moved freely between the western and eastern shores of the estuary along the beach, occasionally coming into the village but then heading back to their natural grazing. However, after the Bot River estuary was artificially breached in 2012, a group of these horses were stranded on the eastern shores and were unable to cross back over for three years. During this time they became habituated to life among the local residents of Fisherhaven.
In 2015 the Senior Environmental Manager of the Overstrand Municipality, Liezl de Villiers was instructed by the Mayor’s Executive Management Team (EMT) to set up a task group comprising various role players, including CapeNature, the Fisherhaven Ratepayer’s Association, Rooisand Horse Watch and Bot River Estuary Forum, to coordinate the relocation of the Fisherhaven herd to the western shores of the estuary at Rooisand.
Although public opinion, backed by Rooisand Horse Watch, appeared to be firmly behind a policy of non-interference, De Villiers said at the time that “the municipality cannot allow the horses to roam freely in a residential area” and that the municipality had “a responsibility to ensure the health, well-being, safety and security of both the public and the animals”.
Robin believes it’s impractical to try and lure the horses back to Rooisand and that they will always return. “That’s why they are still here,” he says while pointing out that since 2015, more and more houses have been built in Fisherhaven. “The increase in vehicles, noise and building activity is disturbing them and, as the neighbourhood continues to develop, there will be less vacant space for them to roam and find grazing. They are becoming more used to finding food in garbage bins – just recently, I saw a foal walking around with clingwrap hanging from its mouth. This is not a healthy life for these horses.”
The only solution, according to Robin, is to have them impounded and invite farmers in the area to take ownership of the horses. They could even be broken up into two or three smaller groups, thereby separating the rival stallions. “I now intend to take urgent and immediate steps to ensure that the decision of the EMT to attend to the relocation of the horses in the interests of the safety, security and wellbeing of these animals is implemented forthwith,” he says.
There are many residents, however, who do not agree with Robin. The Village NEWS has received several impassioned pleas for the horses to remain in Fisherhaven and to be protected by the authorities. “These beautiful wild horses were here first,” says Sherry Hoefnagel. “Long before people started building homes, this was their habitat. We moved here in 1993 because of the tranquillity and open spaces. To our delight, we found that, every now and then, a herd of wild horses would meander through the (then) quiet village. We were thrilled to experience this special treat for many years.
“I am 100% behind the horses being allowed to stay in Fisherhaven and will do anything within my power to make that happen. We can continue to cohabit peacefully if everyone cooperates. For example, people should be deterred from feeding and petting the horses, the speed limit on Fisherhaven’s roads should be reduced from 60 km/h to 40 km/h (as it was when we arrived), more speed bumps should be installed on the busier roads such as China Marais, Lagoon and Farm roads, and clear signage should be erected to warn motorists of the presence of wild horses in the area.”
Leanne Dryburgh, the chair of the Rooisand Horse Watch, has spent many months observing and photographing the Fisherhaven horses, which will culminate in the publication of a book Fifty Years with the Wild Horses, due to be launched during Hermanus FynArts in June. “I know that encroaching urbanisation is getting tricky, but these horses are a national treasure and we have to look after them as best we can. They are part of the history of the area and a unique attraction,” she says.
Rooisand Horse Watch has recently been registered as an NGO and is now an official body with fundraising capacity and links with other horse-watching communities around the world. “The Fisherhaven community is committed to these horses – they are loved, protected and continuously monitored by a network of volunteer horse watchers and patrollers. They are healthy, they have enough to eat and drink, and several foals have been born and grown up over the years,” says Leanne.
To ensure that they continue to thrive, Leanne agrees that solutions need to be found in collaboration with the local authorities. Recommendations that were made to the task team as far back as 2015 included speed-calming measures, street lighting, signage boards, secure fencing along the R43, a cattle grid at the entrance to Fisherhaven and a bylaw prohibiting people from feeding or petting the horses. She has now also managed to source a light-reflective spray which can be used on the horses to make them more visible at night.
“Any decision-making regarding the Fisherhaven horses will require input from Rooisand Horse Watch,” stresses Leanne. “We have studied the horses for many years and they are closely monitored. We know each horse by name and are aware of their movements, habits and characteristics, and the social dynamics within each group.” There are currently about 10 horses left in Fisherhaven while the main herd at Rooisand numbers around 26.
“Sadly, the first accident in which the mare, Star, was killed, had a traumatic impact on the dynamics of the Fisherhaven herd. Not only was her foal grieving and searching for its mother, but Star was the favoured mare of the stallion known as William. He, too, was frantic when she died and subsequently tried to take the mare of the other group’s dominant stallion, Streetfighter, which led to skirmishes. This could have played a role on the evening that Streetfighter galloped into the road and was killed in the second accident. But the current tension will soon dissipate and the herd is already beginning to settle down again.”
However, Dr. Sandy Waddingham of the Hermanus Animal Hospital, who has been involved in treating the horses from time to time with her colleague, Dr. Marc Walton, has expressed concern about their long-term wellbeing. “Fisherhaven is sitting on a time bomb. The tensions will flare up again once the breeding season starts in spring,” she says, in reference to the predominance of stallions in the herd. “Sustainable solutions need to be found to protect both the horses and the public. This could entail first removing one small group or gelding some of the stallions.”
The Overstrand Municipality was unable to give comment by the time The Village NEWS went to print.