Environment

Feral horse legal action “delaying the inevitable”

Edwina Mason 4 June 2020
Parks Victoria inspector looking at land damage from feral horses.

Feral horses are causing significant land damage in the Bogong High Plains in the Victorian Alps. Photo: Parks Victoria.

The Bogong High Plains is at risk of becoming the “Bogong Horse Plains” if delays continue in Parks Victoria’s implementation of their feral horse removal plan, according to Invasive Species Council CEO Andrew Cox.

His judgement has been bolstered by expert advice from the Australian National University’s Professor in Environmental Science, Jamie Pittock, who says the horses’ impact on the alpine environment across state borders is beyond dispute, and that heritage arguments are “nonsense”.

Mr Cox said bushland trying to regenerate following the devastating summer bushfires needs relief from grazing and trampling, and that the Bogong High Plains is severely impacted by an estimated 100 feral horses in the region, plus approximately 5000 wild horses in the eastern Victorian Alps.

“Horse numbers in both the Victorian and NSW Alps have more than doubled in the past five years,” said Mr Cox. “Horse control needs to commence urgently, alongside existing deer, pig and goat control programs that have already been underway since January.”

Professor Pittock said feral horse population numbers had been assessed five times since 2001 through aerial surveys commissioned by the Australian Alps National Parks Co-operative Management Program working with Parks Victoria, NSW National Parks and Wildlife Service, and ACT Parks and Conservation Service.

“This is four government [entities] who usually can’t agree on anything, employing Australia’s best wildlife counters surveying the entire Alps from the air,” said Professor Pittock.

He said the surveys showed the horse population in the alpine regions was increasing by 23 per cent each year. Even considering the 2019-2020 bushfires, which burnt one-third of Kosciuszko National Park, there was little evidence those numbers had diminished.

Land damage from wild brumbies in the Victorian Alps.

The ANU’s Professor Jamie Pittock: “No-one likes shooting horses, but no other control method works and they cannot coexist with threatened flora and fauna species in our alpine national parks.” Photo: The Kosciuszko Science Conference – Conference Abstracts.

“I went up in a helicopter after the fires and saw no dead feral horses but far too many live ones,” said Professor Pittock.

He dismissed the heritage argument of pro-feral horse proponents as “nonsense”, and contradictory to historical evidence of landholders’ efforts to eradicate wild horses in the late-1800s.

He added that an absence of credible evidence is “part of the reason why they’ve lost two big court cases this year”.

“Their argument is about as illogical as saying to a farmer, ‘You shouldn’t control rabbits because they look cute,’” said Professor Pittock.

He said the evidence was unambiguous around wetlands. “They [feral horses] go to stream banks and bogs to graze particularly palatable plants and to access water and turn this habitat into a boggy wasteland,” he explained. “The horses are trampling the alpine bogs, destroying the habitat of threatened plants and animals such as the broad-toothed rat and alpine she-oak lizard, and damaging Indigenous sites.”

Pigs, deer and goats are also a problem, but are controlled by widespread shooting programs in NSW and Victorian parks.

“The horses also destroy the alpine habitats of the highest ecological significance, where there are few pigs and deer,” said Professor Pittock.

“No-one likes shooting horses, but no other control method works and they cannot coexist with threatened flora and fauna species in our alpine national parks.”

Worldwide examples of wild horse populations have been cited as best practice by pro-brumby groups. But Professor Pittock said they, too, had been disastrous, citing the US Bureau of Land Management.

“They haven’t been able to keep feral horse population numbers at sustainable levels, have been going broke agisting the thousands they’ve captured, have been unable to re-home, and have been scandalised through questionable sales of horses to Mexican abattoirs,” he said.

Professor Pittock refutes claims horse management operations cause severe suffering and constitute “senseless slaughter”.

“All pest control programs are undertaken according to strict animal welfare protocols,” he said, “Measures involving horse control benefit from additional vet supervision.”

Legal action has been ongoing since a Federal Court ruling on 8 May which found the removal of feral horses from the Bogong High Plains and eastern Victorian Alps was unlikely “to have a significant impact on the national heritage values of the Australian Alps”.

On 29 May, the Supreme Court of Victoria ruled that Parks Victoria was not required to consult with the community in its decision to cull Alpine National Park brumbies by method of shooting. Pending any further appeals, Parks Victoria will not commence culling before 9 June.

Professor Pittock said there had been two court rulings in favour of Parks Victoria.

“When will they be able to get on with their job of protecting the park?” he asked.

“It’s ironic those seeking to protect the horses today were claiming to represent the traditions of people who chased, rounded up, trapped and killed hundreds of horses.

“As Banjo Paterson wrote, ‘If they didn’t get rid of the horses, the horses would get rid of them.’”

What's Your Opinion?

28 Responses to Feral horse legal action “delaying the inevitable”

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Peter Philp 6:13 am 15 Jun 20

This story is mostly about the horses on Bogong High Plains. There are NO pigs or 4wd’s there. There are deer but the damage done by deer is very different and distinctive. Deer are also being actively controlled. I doubt many who comment in favour of keeping these horses have ever ventured past their cars and into the area horses are a problem.

The pro horse people misrepresent any information and in fact there is no body of evidence to suggest feral horses in Australia are doing anything but damage. This is so important in the sensitive areas such as Youngs Tops where peat bogs are being destroyed. I have seen it. A mob of 12-15 moved north to the Nelse area about 3 years ago and the new damage has been documented. Deer were there before so it is clear this damage is from horses.

There is also no evidence these horses are from a line which were used as remounts during war. The early settlers regarded these horses as inferior and they were killed for meat and hides. If you want to play the heritage card then you should consider the legacy of that to future generations. The Bogongs are going and they have to in order to save a very small but special part of the mountains. I love these mountains and I love my 4 horses. There is room in this debate to be a horse owner and someone who understands where horses should not be.

Hilary Hobart 12:15 am 15 Jun 20

Fence off sensitive areas, provide alternative water sources, and initiate breeding control programs.
Not indescriminate killing.

    Di Medaris 5:15 pm 21 Jun 20

    I agree totally. I would like to see these thousands of horses they claim they have seen. I would also like to hear from the owners of the land.

Tanya 5:02 pm 14 Jun 20

Despicable decision. No Idea what they are doing or the impact they will have, in a negative way. The horses help our environment the deer and pigs do not. Horses are being blamed for damage caused by other species. No accurate Information at all.

Staedler 4:14 pm 14 Jun 20

Historically feral horses were viewed as a pest. Going through Trove and looking at newspaper articles from the 1800s through to the 1930s shows zero care for them beyond being a pest to eradicated (even The Man from Snowy River expresses that view, it’s about a valuable horse being taken into the ferals and the ride is about recovering it). Even during WW1 the only view of the feral horses was rather than as mounts for the AIF, they would make a good source of meat for export.

Enough with the psuedo science that they’re good for the environment. All reports of that come from Europe, where there are endemic hard hoof animals and horses have been there for millennia.

Aerial shooting is done regularly for pigs and deer, just get on with it for feral horses as well.

Bronwyn Dillon 3:28 pm 14 Jun 20

When did the professor ever get out of his class room long enough to see the brumbies?
Has he looked at the damage done by feral pigs, deer and feral Humans in there 4/4 trucks and cars?
The Brumbies have more rights to be here and heritage listed,leave them alone and since when is shooting them from helicopters humane its not horses are left to die in agony because its not a clean kill shot, foals are left to starve to death ,its barbaric

Heather Gardner 1:45 pm 14 Jun 20

I found this article disturbing in the extreme as it seemed unable to make a case for destroying brumbies except for saying heritage value was just nonsense ignoring all the history completely. Also, I am not convinced by his argument that the horses were destroying a rat and a lizard. Not convincing at all with the prospect of shooting horses but not necessarily killing them immediately. They should not be shot and the so called fact that he didn’t see any dead horses after the fires is again not proof that they didn’t die.

Stephanie Young 1:43 pm 14 Jun 20

After the horses having been there for some 200 years, why all of a sudden are they such a major problem, and of course the deer, there are many more deer than horses, and the wild boar, rabbits, dogs, etc. Horses don’t normally wallow in water, of course they are allowed to drink there, but the deer love to wallow. Then there are the humans, well it seems they door far more damage than the animals, we have all seen photos of the 4×4 vehicle damage, rubbish left by humans, mountain bikes of course as well. Every one just picks on the horses, whatever you think they are a part of our heritage, so loved and precious. The amount of horses on the Bogong High Plains is minimal. We also know that in past culls horses have been found to still be alive and suffering up to a couple of days and the poor little foals left to suffer a horrible death without their mothers, the whole thing is so inhumane and disgusting.

Miriam Lloyd-Smith 10:12 am 14 Jun 20

He’s so wrong when he states shooting is the only way, why are you deliberately ignoring other ways used in other countries ? Like birth control methods, darting the stallions so they aren’t as productive ! It seems such a barbaric way , to shoot them, and we know it’s not easy to get a kill shot so it is a very cruel and absolutely terrifying method for them .Are we not better than that ?

Beverley Mcdowell 9:45 am 14 Jun 20

Would about regional please explain their obsession with removing brumbies from southern Australia. Your coverage always has a negative bias and does not follow basic journalistic practices of giving both sides of a story when it concerns brumbies. At times the writers voice is almost gloating, I should point out that veterinarians have stopped shooting sick horses because of, the very small area on a horses skull where a clean fill shot can be achieved, shooting at panicked, fleeing horses results in crippling injuries and a slow, agonising death, days or weeks later.

John Angus 9:42 am 14 Jun 20

I think it is amazing to read the incredible bias that this author demonstrates. For instance he writes that brumbies cause “a waste land” around creek crossings. The photo used to demonstrate this is not “a waste land”. I have never, and I mean never seen any crossings like this lead to permanent damage over some 40 yrs riding in many parts of the high country. Brumbies do tend to cross waterways in a select few places, but no mention is made of the many hundreds of meters of creek between crossings that has NO brumby even stepping foot on it. Another example of emotive language is to refer to the brumbies as “feral horses”. If brumbies are feral to the high country, then so is “white man”, and everything that we have brought to this environment. Surely it should all be about “a balance”. Our environment is always in a state of change whether we like it or not. How is it ok to accept change when it suits but then not ok to accept when it doesn’t. Why is it ok to have roads, bridges, power lines, hydro development etc, and not have the brumbies who have become a very ‘normal’ part of the high country landscape, whether we like it or not. Accepting change is ‘normal’ in our society, right across the board. So, accept the brumbies, accept the human ‘interferences’, accept that a great many in our society want to visit the high country, accept that there will always be differing views, listen to all points of view, find the middle road, and above all else, STOP polarizing arguments and STOP proffering one point of view as being the only one that is correct.
Let the brumbies remain as part of our landscape, listen to the people who want them to remain, find the middle ground, accept change, value diverse opinion.

Angela lee 8:40 am 14 Jun 20

Brumbies were here long before parks victoria !!! WHY DONT YOU GET THE 4wd out too you talk like it’s just the horrors it’s not and then parks victoria offer horse rides through the parks what a joke. The brumbies taught to save the land parks victoria stands on !!! They are our heritage and that’s how the people see them. END OF STORY

Janine L 8:37 am 14 Jun 20

This so-called expert may be should see the photos taken in the high country of the boggy tracks of 4WD’s torn up besides the hardened tracks they are meant to use. They love going up there after rain and doing spin-outs in the mud and churn it up. The photos are disgusting. Then they leave their rubbish all over the campsites. Humans are the ones should be banned from these parks. There is much evidence in photos and videos of dead brumbies in the high country who had died from the fires. These horses have lived there in peace for nearly 200 years so, if they were responsible for destroying wildlife and the environment, this would’ve happened way before our time. These greenies are a disgrace and need to check out the human damage before they go and slaughter innocent animals.

Carolyn Robins 7:18 am 14 Jun 20

Can we get opposing comments from people researching wild horses and their role in regenerating the environment? People with pre-existing opinions should put their case forward, along with conservationists on the other side.

B J BIGGS 7:17 am 14 Jun 20

this cruel slaughter of horses is unacceptable. The “damage” is exaggerated and not showing damage caused by pigs, deer and 4WD. Numbers are not proven since the bushfires, which reduced populations.these horses died serving our country in war and are tourist attractions. without them what tourist wants to see the broad-toothed rat? there is plenty of photos of the horses killed in bushfires. NZ studies have shown they are ecologically beneficial. They have ulterior motives in this, wanting to build an Aust version of Aspen? and other projects. this article is heavily biased.I want to see filming of this proposed ‘culling’ and film evidence of what happens in abbatoirs. Unless euthanasia is carried out correctly, horses are cruelly suffering. THE WORLD IS WATCHING !

    Beverley Mcdowell 9:32 am 14 Jun 20

    Thank you for your defence of our brumbies. There is so much misinformation and outright lies being peddled by vested interests in sections of the media and in Canberra amongst people who want the impossible, the mountains returned to a pre historical state..There is a growing body of evidence from ecologists that large herbivores actually benefit their environment. Horses are being used in Scandinavia and Europe to aid in repair of degraded land.

    Julie 12:38 pm 14 Jun 20

    Beverley, I don’t know what article you have been reading, but nowhere in the article above do the authors DEFEND the brumbies, they are advocating shooting them and ridding the parks of them. Maybe have another read!

    Peter Philp 3:47 pm 14 Jun 20

    No, there is not a growing body of evidence to support horses being allowed to continue on Bogong High Plains. You misrepresent the facts. An article written by a horse lover citing one scientific journal which talked about the re-introduction of a breed of horses lost to an area. The article did not mention Australia as an example but the scientific study also talked about the benefit of introducing pigs. Now do you think that would be a good idea? You only want things one way and refuse to consider any alternate view. As the owner of 4 horses and one who rides and walks the High Plains regularly I can comment with some authority and see both sides. This story is mostly about the Bogongs and there are no pigs and no 4wding in the area where the horses are. There are deer and the deer are being actively controlled. Have you ever been there? A small mob of horses moved north to the Nelse area about 3 years ago. The damage done in such a short space of time can be directly attributed to these horses. The deer were there before and their damage recorded.

    There is also no evidence the Bogong horses are from any historic genetic line. In fact, the late Ken Connelly recently admitted to the Herald Sun he bred and released horses to the High Plains to improve the herd. I get it you love horses and that blinds you. I love my horses too. You want to play the heritage card then you should take the stance of our forebears and pioneers and adopt the same position they had. The only reason it has changed is they are not pestered by these animals because of fences. It amazes me how something considered a pest and shot (or worse) changed to an icon in such a short time once it no longer affected the graziers economically. The feral horse was considered so inferior that it was only used for hides and meat.

    The Bogong feral horses are going. Get over it and get on with other things. Other notable ‘Brumby runners’ of the Omeo area have admitted there are too many horses in the Eastern Alps and they needed a thin out. Have your ever been to the Cobberas or MacFarlanes Flat? Cowombat Flat? Native Dog? Nunniong? I have seen hundreds upon hundreds of runted, boney and ugly inbred horses. You can’t save every horse. Perhaps turn your attention to the race horse industry, which churns out thousand of unwanted horses every year. I have two rescue OTT TB’s who have earned their hay.

    Horses also are good at spreading weed seed and on Bogong High Plains there is a Hawk weed problem. If it gets down onto the grazing land below we are in big trouble. Parks Vic have put thousands of hours into containing this problem with some areas still out of bounds. All around Pretty Valley it is a problem and it has been found as east as Langford Gap. Not far to Middle creek and Shannonvale. With the damage done to the peat bogs on Youngs Tops, which takes more than your lifetime to repair, I would suggest stream flows in the future will be affected. This will affect the Bundara river but then those who live there will probably blame Parks for not doing something about it, just as they are now trying to save a feral pest.

Marion Young 6:52 am 14 Jun 20

These aren’t true facts. Feral pigs and dear do most of the damage. Pigs have lots of Piglet’s in each birthing whereas horses have one foal a year. There were definitely dead horse are the fires I saw the photos. Please get your facts correct.

Shayne 6:08 am 14 Jun 20

You think horses are a problem, try humans in there 4 wds out last weekend in national parks ripping up the ground and compacting it, putting farrows in the muddy ground, but suppose will blame brumbies for that. Humans are the worst, but nothing is done about them.
Brumbies keep the fire load down which parks cannot do or lie about how much they do but then if it’s on the plan then their must of done it, right, wrong.
They are a tourist attraction, help spread native grasses, help fertilise but low nutrients into soil because only on grass.
Usually only have one crossing, go to flat ares to drink, try to avoid boggy ground as they like solid ground under there feet.
Ask parks what pigs do it is far worse then horses and sometimes humans but don’t hear nothing about them. Why aren’t they eradicating them,
Also if they are looking out for the parks then why are they dropping baits to kill native and non native species, to die a slow painful death.
Why are all there experts telling lies, won’t listen to anyone unless they agree with what they think otherwise try to be little you, intimidate you and basically call you are lyre won’t listen.

Joanne Canning 2:30 am 14 Jun 20

population estimate
Kosciusko –
Equated with this increase over the intervening five years was an annual finite rate of population increase of 1.370, or 37%!!
This annual rate of increase exceeds the maximum rate of 1.220 or 22% that has been proposed by Walter (2002). So basically ridiculously impossible figures!
The surveys were designed with a target level of precision of 20%. However, this level of precision was not always achieved!!!!!!
AND THIS WAS BEFORE THE FIRES!!!

Kirsten 1:55 am 14 Jun 20

Rubbish – horses are proven to enhance their natural environments….
Their numbers are grossly exaggerated- why a proper count hasn’t been done is a key question.
Why is the science from all over the world that shows they are beneficial been ignored ?
With literally millions of pig & deer on site destroying habitat- & little to nothing being done- you really have to ask what the real agenda is ?

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