23 August 2023

Call for NPWS to stop brumby cull in face of 'flawed' population count

| Edwina Mason
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Trapping of wild horses continues in Kosciuszko National Park despite recent statistically and scientifically based reports of flawed population counts. Photo: Reclaim Kosci.

Brumby advocate Peter Cochran has told the NSW National Parks and Wildlife Service (NPWS) to lay down its weapons in the war against the wild horses, or brumbies, of Kosciuszko National Park (KNP).

Mr Cochran, speaking to About Regional, called for an immediate halt to the ground shooting and trapping of the wild horses in light of scientifically backed revelations the NPWS was working from a flawed population count methodology.

“We have statisticians to back that allegation,” he said.

“We’ve all known it’s never been the number they said. The numbers have been wildly exaggerated. I ride up there five days a week and I know nearly all the horses by name, as do the photographers who are up there every week, and the horses are just not there.

“Right now, while that is being disputed, the culling has to stop and the only way people can stop it is to call your local MP, call every state MP, call the Minister’s office, the Premier and Deputy Premier, it is the only way.”

His comments come in the wake of NSW Environment Minister Penny Sharpe’s call on August 7 for feedback on a proposed amendment to the Kosciuszko National Park Wild Horse Heritage Management Plan (KNP WHHMP), to allow aerial shooting as an additional option for wild horse control alongside the existing methods of trapping and rehoming, and ground shooting.

Ms Sharpe said widespread recognition of the urgent need to reduce numbers of wild horses to protect more than 30 native threatened species in the park had forced her to consider a more extreme option.

A November 2022 survey of the KNP showed an estimated wild horse population of 18,814.

This sparked outrage among environmental groups, which claimed the number of wild horses had surged, despite culling operations, by more than 4000 in the past two years.

They’ve accused the NSW Government of mismanaging the park.

NSW NPWS head Atticus Fleming said the survey had been carried out as part of the WHHMP, which would see the KNP population reduced to 3000 horses by 30 June, 2027.

Mr Fleming said the survey used the world’s best practice, and the report, authored by a leading scientist from the University of New England, Dr Stuart Cairns from the School of Environmental and Rural Science, had been peer-reviewed by scientists from the CSIRO and the Queensland Department of Agriculture and Fisheries.

“The scientific report indicates the best estimate is 18,814 horses and states there is 95 per cent confidence that the population is between 14,501 and 23,535 horses,” Mr Fleming said.

Mr Cochran said his estimates sat around 3000-4000 wild horses in KNP, “if that”.

A recent volunteer headcount, conducted in the park by brumby supporters over two days, cited 853 wild horses.

READ ALSO Volunteers to conduct brumby count

Independent bio-statistician Claire Galea was involved in the 2021 NSW kangaroo inquiry – established to inquire into and report on the health and wellbeing of kangaroos and other macropods in NSW – along with Penny Sharpe.

Ms Galea said at that time, both she and Ms Sharpe had expressed concerns about the counting methodology for kangaroos; the same used for brumby counts.


A load of 17 brumbies – mares, foals and stallions – from Kosciuszko National Park arrived at Indigo Brumbies Animal Rescue Service last weekend. Photo: Indigo Brumbies.

She cannot comprehend why the Minister challenged one count and supports the other.

“Stuart Cairns himself, in his reports for both kangaroo and wild horse counts, said they need to see a minimum of 60-80 clusters of animals to undertake any ‘reliable monitoring’,” she said.

Ms Galea suggests horse cluster numbers have been combined to meet the minimum quantity.

“In 2014, he only saw 20 clusters in the northern part of Kosciuszko National Park and in 2019 he only saw 43 clusters, well below, at both times, the necessary 60 to do any reliable statistical modelling,” she said.

“In the Snowy Valleys in 2014, they saw 10 clusters and in 2019, they saw five clusters.

“This modelling is unreliable. They did not see sufficient numbers to do these population estimates.”

Ms Galea said in the absence of any imagery of the horses, photos or video footage, there also was no way of knowing whether the animals had been double-counted.

She said implausible population increases were another red flag.

“If we look at North Kosciuszko for the wild horses and go with the population estimates they say, a mare would have to produce seven foals a year,” Ms Galea said.

The gestation period in horses is typically between 330 and 345 days, or 11 months. In free-roaming or feral horses, foals are naturally weaned around eight to nine months of age.

“We need evidence, we need an independent statistical investigation of these wild horses,” Ms Galea said.

”We need statisticians, videographers independent of the NSW Government, up there in a chopper to do that and extrapolate those figures using their numbers.”

Ms Galea said until that took place, a moratorium on the cull of brumbies was needed.

READ ALSO POLL: Should we include aerial shooting in the Kosciuszko wild horse management plan?

Equine scientist Joanne Canning, who has dedicated three years to researching the topic, agrees.

She says official figures highlighted a brumby population increase of 37 per cent, but soon discovered that failed to take into account the number of horses removed from the park each year.

“And it meant that the annual increase would have had to be 41 per cent, based on the official counts, and that’s a biological impossibility,” Ms Canning said.

“The scientific maximum is around 20 per cent per annum and that’s in ideal conditions.”

The community has until 11 September to provide input on the proposed amendment.

Former One Nation, now independent NSW MLC Rod Roberts has backed calls for a moratorium on culling, while yesterday in Canberra, public submissions were heard during the Federal Senate Inquiry into Impacts and Management of Feral Horses in the Australian Alps.

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patricia gardiner3:52 pm 25 Aug 23

I am interested to know if feral horse advocates agree with the animal cruelty inflicted on horses at rodeos. These horses/broncs are tormented with flank straps and spurs to make them jump, twist and writhe. This aggravation causing them to hurl themselves against barriers and throw themselves to the ground.
Even more appalling is that this torment is intentionally inflicted purely for entertainment.

Philip in Narooma11:12 am 25 Aug 23

I have been a regular visitor to KNP, especially the Long plain, Currango region, both as a fisherman and a walker since the late ‘60s. As a Veterinarian I was always interested in seeing the brumbies and their effects on the rivers and streams. In my opinion they haven’t substantially increased in numbers since the mid ‘90s as the carrying capacity of that regions isn’t very high. I don’t believe the damage to the rivers can be attributed solely to them .. the number of feral pigs HAS increased a lot from personal observation

In the southern regions around the Tin Mine and Geehi the number of deer and pigs has increased immensely. This area of KNP IMO is far more ecologically valuable than the northern plains. It’s just that the horses are so much more visible in the north. The issue of deer. Pigs and wild dogs (which have occasionally given me a real fright on the Eucumbene river) is rarely considered by ‘armchair conservationists’.

I believe there is a case that the numbers need to be looked at carefully. The Grey Nurse shark count was so hopelessly incorrect in 2003 that it was declared critically endangered. This action diverted hundreds of thousands of dollars away from necessary fishery research funding. There was a clear misuse of statistics to get a desired result in this case.

Finally, if culling HAS to proceed, at least use a suitable calibre. 300 calibre does not have enough power, 338 is far more suitable. The recoil however may be an issue in a helicopter.

Stop The Obviously Cruel Brumby Cull4:37 pm 25 Aug 23

Very well said – these decision-makers need to hear from those of us that know the truth about all this up there. Thats assuming they want to hear the truth, thus far they have not.

Stop The Obviously Cruel Brumby Cull9:39 am 25 Aug 23

Finally some truth in the Media about this Brumby Cull. Causing horrible animal cruelty (in this case to a beautiful innocent sentient non-predatory animal like the Brumby) is never OK, worse still when those Slaughtering use and abuse inaccurate and horribly inflated and exaggerated data and so-called ‘science’ that lacks actual evidence.

The only thing to get from this article, is its a case of who do you believe. I would think that it probably depends on whether you are a Brumby supporter, or not. As the two views are so far apart, and I literally mean far apart (at least a 10,000 discrepancy in the number of Brumbies), its probably best to almost start again, or take another approach. What about looking at the damage being caused by, or not being caused by brumbies. Where there is a lot of damage, cull them, if not, don’t.

patricia gardiner1:27 pm 23 Aug 23

These ongoing stalling tactics by feral horse advocates are what have caused numbers to escalate, necessitating the need for aerial shooting.
When will advoctes learn that they are making matters worse.

Stop The Obviously Cruel Brumby Cull9:35 am 25 Aug 23

Did you read the article ? Have you been up there ? The Population data used to support animal cruelty is a Lie as is the supposed environmental damage caused by the Brumbies there.

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