The population of feral horses running wild in the Australian Alps has exploded to 25,000.
With the growth in wild horse herds in the NSW and Victorian high country more than doubling in just five years, scientists fear Australia’s most-important water catchment is at risk.
The Murray-Darling River system relies on about 30 per cent of its water seeping and flowing from the Australian Alps.
The majority of the horses - more than 15,000 - are in the north Kosciuszko National Park, according to the 2019 Australian Alps Feral Horse Aerial Survey. The Murrumbidgee River springs from this area. Collapsed and compacted river banks caused by flailing hooves is a common sight.
More than 8000 wild horses were also detected in an area running south from Mt Kosciuszko and across the Victorian-NSW border, which is where the Murray River begins.
When The Age/The Sydney Morning Herald flew by helicopter to the remote source of the Murray late last month, evidence of damage was clear. Moss beds at the very start of Australia’s only great river had been trashed and “pugged” by horse hooves, preventing water from moving.
The feral horse survey was carried out in autumn this year on behalf of the Australian Alps National Parks Co-operative Management Program working with Parks Victoria, the NSW National Parks and Wildlife Service and the ACT Parks and Conservation Service.
With the program expecting a backlash from pro-brumby groups, the survey was subjected to independent peer review by CSIRO Australia and internationally respected experts from St Andrews University, Scotland.
The result was a population estimate of wild horses in the alps that had increased from 9187 in 2014 to 25,318 in 2019: an increase of 23 per cent each year.
Although Victoria has a program of culling wild horses, the NSW government controversially passed legislation in 2018 that granted heritage status to wild horses, effectively protecting them from large-scale culling.
The legislation was championed by the NSW Nationals leader, John Barilaro - whose constituency of Monaro covers the park.
With Barilaro and the NSW Liberal Environment Minister, Matt Kean, at odds over the issue, Kean reacted to the survey this week by declaring the number of wild horses was “unacceptable and unsustainable for our natural environment”.
“The NSW government will take steps to reduce the number of horses in the national park in a humane way, working with the community and scientific advisory committees,” he said.
The Victorian Environment Minister, Lily D’Ambrosio, said the survey results “are why our planned feral horse control programs, which protect the threatened Australian Alps environment, are so important”.
“Feral horses are not a natural part of the Australian Alps environment – they cause damage and threaten the biodiversity of the unique landscape,” D’Ambrosio said.
Invasive Species Council chief executive Andrew Cox said it was rare to see a wild horse in the mountains in the 1970s, but “an out of control horse plague” was now trashing the natural values at Kosciuszko.
“Do we watch it be ruined, or manage it as a National Park?” Cox asked.
The NSW “Brumbies Bill” effectively killed a 2016 draft plan by the NSW Office of Environment and Heritage that recommended cutting the park’s horse population to 600 over 20 years.
But despite the dramatic increase in numbers since then, only 99 horses have been trapped and removed this year. Park management announced at the end of last month that following concerns about danger to campers, 67 stallions, 24 mares and eight yearlings were removed.
The Australian Capital Territory, whose alpine and water-catchment region joins the Kosciuszko park, has a policy of shooting wild horses to protect Canberra’s water supply.
The ACT Environment Minister, Mick Gentleman, said feral horses “do not recognise state boundaries and the scientific evidence is clear – heavy hoofed pests such as feral horses are damaging the landscape”.
The Kosciuszko National Park’s management announced recently that aerial shooting of wild pigs and deer was to begin this week, and other feral animals such as foxes, goats, and wild dogs would also be targeted. But feral horses would be spared.
Interesting… Wonder what the go is in Vic and where to find them, I’d definitely be interested what one tastes like. I know lots of countries eat horse, little bit of searching…
Mexico, Switzerland, Kazakhstan, Belgium, Japan, Germany, Indonesia, Poland and China are among the nations where many people eat horse meat without a second thought.
Wonder what GMA would say if I email them
Mmmmmmm… ALDI lasagne.
Is anyone able to explain to me what the whole thing is with super non-animal activist types desperately wanting to protect wild horses?
Like, I love cats. My cat is awesome. However, I recognise that she is an introduced species and she would be destructive to our eco system if she were allowed outside. As such, I’m fine with people killing feral cats.
I don’t understand what people’s love of these horses is beyond they like horses.
As for the article, I think allowing shooting in national parks would help keep their population under control. But yeah, not going to happen.
There are no rational explanations to emotional thinking.
I can ask around I used to have some friends when I was riding myself that would go and catch the brumbys cowboy style. The idea and in reality that you horse is a lot stronger and fitter than those roaming wild. Well it should be if you ride twice a week or more.
Then you find them get as close as you can and then just chase them down. Really dangerous stuff they will go through thick scrub that can take your head off or cut you to pieces. The jumps are so much of a problem as long as you have trained up to about 3 ft or slightly more. when the horse finally tires you throw a noose around its neck.
The more commercial way is to set up a set of large stock yards and heard them into them.
Be interesting, @sungazer.
I’m a fan of horses, but they need to be culled…
They should look to the problems they have in the US that have come out of the wild horse protection act… too many horses, not enough habitat to support them, no legal option to cull, not enough people to take them onto private property… Federal money that should be going to protecting habits and wildlife is going to protecting a feral animal. What a fuck up.
How much of an idiot is John Barilaro? Wants to walk away from the Basin Plan, but protects feral horses. Clear cut vote chaser…
Redundant statement for a ‘politician’, don’t you think.
And have a look at how NZ has done it really well. Their wild horse herd has been controlled through some limited culling as well as the yearly removal of a set number to keep it at a steady level. I believe the acceptable level is reviewed by a panel of experts each year to determine what the environment can handle. If there is an event such as a drought, more horses will be removed/culled.
People can volunteer to take wild horses removed from the herd given they have suitable property and experience with horses. All of this is what I learnt the one time I went horse riding in NZ so sorry if I missed some details!
Yeah, the problem is when governments react to misinformed public pressure and give them protection that precludes management. In the US, the term “wild horse” has a specific legal meaning, which provides essentially the same level of protection as being listed as an endangered species. I fear we are heading down that road…
You only have to look at all the feral animals in Australia stupid people wanting stupid protection laws thus leading to over abundance of ferals horse meat is quiet palatable I’ve eaten it and would eat it if it was on a butchers shelf but that won’t happen whilst the pollies are still chasing votes and listen to people with no knowledge of the matter we had a problem up here years ago but they were nipped in the butt and sold for pet mince the ones too hard to trap were shot by farmers then a bad drought wiped the rest out rules, regulations ,guidelines and misinformation as well as vote chasing is going to stuff this country horses are only one of them that can be controlled with the right approach and that won’t happen until it’s taken out of government hands same goes for the rest end of ‘’ RANT’’
Note horse makes the best salami I’ve ever tasted it has the right texture and flavour add some fat as horse doesn’t carry much fat itself so cattle fat has to be added have I got your taste buds yet
Camel salami is pretty good too.
I’d love to fill the freezer with horse meat!
The bit that I don’t get is why the bloody hell are we protecting an introduced animal?
I am starting to think that these idiot pollies and other weirdo’s have watched The Man from Snowy River too many times.
What’s next, protecting rabbits, foxes, cane toads, camels, donkey’s (and not the one’s that are in parliament) as well as the other introduced species???
According to my eye-talyun friend, it is absolutely delicious and I wouldn’t mind trying it myself.
Yep bentaz camel another wasted food and plenty of it you can corn camel and it tastes like corned beef horse is more like between game meat and beef and also can be corned also good for stir fry or anything with spice although it’s good on its own buffalo another waste of food but I doubt we will see businesses emerge in this area while the government puts so many restrictions on the industry and gives so much misinformation on the meats being unsafe for human consumption which is false or no different to cattle they all can carry disease some of these diseases were introduced to animals by man but are easily detected same as domestic cattle people that think that hard hooved animals won’t harm the natural habitat has no idea what they are talking about a horse is different to a cow a cow will nip the grass off the tuft and a horse will pull the whole tuft out of the ground if necessary removing it permanently poisoning brumbies is inhumane they die in pain as does all poisoned animals shooting and trapping is best but has to be kept going to stay on top of the ferals make them worth something and people will do it for them or start a business better than leaving them on the ground to rot or maybe that would be too simple AGGHH ! I’ve said enough
You can blame “The Man From Snowy River” for this particular jingoistic piece of legislative disaster. Nationals rep playing up to his traditional mountain cattlemen base.
Mmmmm horse pastrami, is delicious. Only need one to fill the freezer @bentaz