The New South Wales government is under new pressure to reverse its law against the culling of feral horses in the Kosciuszko National Park.
Some organisations fear that the ever-increasing population of these brumbies pose a danger not only to the horses but also the landscape and other animals within the park. These calls come after disturbing images of brumbies that were thought to have died of hunger were released recently.
Scientists in Australia had earlier teamed up to pressurise the NSW government into repealing the legislation that banned the culling of brumbies in the park. The number of feral horses starving to death has skyrocketed, making it challenging to manage the carcasses.
In mid-October 2018, Alison Swain, an eco-tour enthusiast, released videos and images showing the dead and starving brumbies who succumbed to drought and the recent bush fires.
“Leaving feral horses to run wild in the park with no effective population control is environmental vandalism,” said Mr Swain who is also a campaigner for the Invasive Species Council.
Cull or Rehome?
There have also been debates as to whether the animals should be culled or rehomed. While some advocates and the government believe that rehoming would be the best course of action, some activists and scientists term this action an impossibility considering the high number of brumbies in the park.
A failure to manage the ever-growing population has resulted in the death of many animals. These incidents happened after the Horse Act was enacted with the government saying that the feral horses were culturally significant.
“Unless the Horse Act is overturned, Kosciuszko will become increasingly battered, and will start to look more like a horse paddock than a national park,” said Mr Alison Swain.
The NSW government and some animal advocate groups are actively campaigning for the trapping and rehoming of these animals. However, according to experts, this method may not effectively curb the overpopulation crisis.
Erica Jessup from the Guy Fawkes Heritage Horse Association is one of those advocating for the trapping and rehoming of the feral horses. While she is relieved that the horses will not be culled, Erica acknowledges the overpopulation issue and is positive that rehoming is the right course of action to take.
“We’ve had three years of drought conditions, which would make trapping horses very easy; we would like to see them commit some of that money to trap.” She said.
Ms Jessup believes that many groups, especially those supporting the culling of these brumbies have interpreted the works of her association as ignorance to the status quo. However, according to her, they do not advocate against the removal of brumbies from national parks but rather finding them a new home instead of culling.
“We’re not about leaving them on-park, there’s far too many of them down there. What we have tried to do is provide an option for these horses off-park and for them to be removed from the park passively in preference to being shot out of a chopper,” she said.
According to Ms Jessup, there is a growing demand for brumbies, and shooting them down would be imprudent.
“This program has been running for 15 years, and demand far outstrips supply,” she said.
“The horses have built a great name for themselves, they’re very popular and even people that are dedicated to other breeds of horses like stock horses and quarter horses are becoming more interested in them.”
Until the government effected its legislation against the culling of brumbies, a management plan that suggested both trapping and culling of feral animals was underway. The NSW Greens had unsuccessfully introduced a bill in an attempt to overturn government legislation and pass the 2016 Wild Horse Management Plan.
Cate Faehmann, an environmental spokesperson for the NSW Greens, blamed the government and especially the premier Gladys Berejiklian for turning a blind eye to the feral horse situation.
“The premier’s refusal to implement the 2016 Wild Horse Management Plan and decision to pass laws which declare feral horses a protected species means that there is now no effective culling program and population numbers are out of control.”
Other people who support culling include Professor in Ecology at Charles Sturt University, David Watson, who said excluding horses from the aerial culling programme in Guy Fawkes National Park is a wrong decision.
“When environmental scientists, when agencies talk about culling, this isn’t some bloodthirsty desire,” he said.
“This is wanting to minimise the effects these animals are having on national heritage values — on the values for which the park was gazetted in the first place.”