26 March 2024

NSW brumby inquiry headed for the mountains after final hearing

| Edwina Mason
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Senate inquiry members will visit Kosciuszko National Park to observe the wild horses, or brumbies, being targeted for removal by the NSW Government. Photo: Snowy Brumby Photography Adventures with Michelle and Ian.

A NSW Senate inquiry into the proposed aerial shooting of wild horses in Kosciuszko National Park (KNP) is heading to the mountains, the day after a third and final hearing in Sydney on Wednesday (27 March).

Inquiry chair, Animal Justice Party MLC Emma Hurst, whose motion to stop the killing of the wild horses failed in Parliament last week, has confirmed inquiry members will visit the park to observe the wild horses, or brumbies, currently being targeted for removal by the NSW Government.

The visit falls just two days short of a staged Easter weekend rally of brumby supporters who will gather in KNP on 31 March to protest against a seven-month lockout in the northern section of the national park to allow for aerial shooting operations targeting horses, deer, pigs and other feral species.

The government closed the southern portion of the park south of the Alpine Way on 4 March ahead of a month-long aerial culling operation before the attention moves to the northern section for a six-month period from 4 April.

NSW Environment Minister Penny Sharpe received the go-ahead to deploy aerial shooters under an amendment to the KNP Wild Horse Heritage Management plan last October after concerns were expressed by the National Parks and Wildlife Service (NPWS) that efforts to reduce the estimated 17,432 horses to a legislated 3000 by 2027 were failing.

Ms Sharpe told Parliament last week the culling operations were necessary to protect Australia’s only alpine environment.

“It is fragile. Around 32 species of both plants and animals are found there that are not found anywhere else on Earth,” she said.

”Twelve of them in particular are threatened native species that are under severe pressure from the impact of the horses in the park. As a result of that, we had to make some hard choices.”

Ms Sharpe said 4152 horses had been removed from the park since November 2021 – 1336 from aerial shooting, 129 from ground shooting, 916 for rehoming, 640 for transport to knackeries, 109 from shooting in yards, 70 from tranquillisation in yards, 37 from euthanasia and 15 from dying indirectly for different reasons.

Ms Sharpe confirmed 534 horses had been shot in the 15 days since aerial shooting started in southern KNP, with four additional horses shot from the ground.

READ ALSO NSW must come to the table on wild horses, says ACT Government

The following day in the Senate, Ms Hurst’s motion for the aerial shooting to cease was defeated, resulting in a Coalition split.

Afterwards she said she was disgusted the Shooters, Farmers and Fishers Party, which sided with the Labor and Greens majority, and had feigned support for the brumbies, only to suddenly flip its position, “and support an aerial shooting bloodbath on brumbies”.

Her comments follow the news two Snowy Mountains residents had last weekend lodged a cruelty complaint with the NSW RSPCA following the recent discovery of three fresh horse carcasses in the Pilot Wilderness Region with multiple gunshot wounds to the torso, which marked a departure from the RSPCA’s aerial shooting standard operating practices (SOPs) which dictate only head (brain) or chest (heart/lung) shots.

Shooting to other parts of the body, the RSPCA SOPs state, is unacceptable.

The report further alleged the aerial shooting operations took place in weather characterised by heavy fog and light rain, in contravention of the SOPs, which stipulate, for safety reasons, that shooting from a helicopter cannot be done in adverse weather conditions.

It is understood the shooting took place on 14 March.

RSPCA NSW said in this matter, the informant implicated RSPCA NSW as the person of interest and due to this, RSPCA NSW referred the matter to NSW Police immediately.

The police said there was no police investigation of the complaint.

Nationals MLC Wes Fang said the RSPCA was deficient in its oversight over the NPWS’s aerial shooting operations by not insisting cameras be used to monitor all activity and it should pull its support for the SOPs.

READ ALSO Support sought for high-tech count of Kosciuszko’s wild horses

A crowdfunded high-tech independent survey in northern KNP will also come under the spotlight at next week’s Senate inquiry, with initial results indicating horse numbers are vastly lower than State Government estimates.

The public portal went live last week with only 236 horses, or 1.113 horses per square kilometre, manually counted in the 212 sq km Northern Kosciuszko survey area.

The organiser of the private count, Rocky Harvey, said the official NPWS 2023 Wild Horse Population Survey stated that between 3315 and 5121 horses should be present in the area.

“But we can see quite clearly on this imagery it’s impossible to hide the additional, say, 3000 to 5000 horses, and we’re very likely looking at a population overestimate of more than 90 per cent,” he said.

“If this overestimation is applied to the total NPWS population estimate of 17,432, it is likely there are already less than 1200 horses remaining in the entire park, which is far below the legislated 3000 horses.”

People are invited to view the images captured by fixed-wing aircraft on 25 February in this initial survey, with another survey area proposed.

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patricia gardiner1:27 pm 31 Mar 24

Unfortunately there is no ‘middle ground’ in this argument.
Environmentalists and those who treasure/respect our natural environment want to save it, while feral horse advocates want to save that which is destroying it.

Victoria Incani12:40 pm 30 Mar 24

The recent survey found 387 horses in an area of 21,000Ha, which is 3% of the park. Scaling that up to 100% is over 12,000. In order for aerial photography to be effective, the entire park needs to be photographed simultaneously, so mitigate migration. Good luck with getting an accurate count with this method. This is why confidence intervals are used. At the end of the day, any number of Brumbies is too many.

Janine Lisle7:31 pm 27 Mar 24

Please people, you are being conned by this government. This disgusting slaughter has to stop. The brumbies have lived there for 200 years peacefully and all wildlife and flora have co-existed just fine. The Invasive Species mob are more destructive than any animal and they will tell you anything to win your support. They have slaughtered that many brumbies so far, the numbers of brumbies left are very little according to the brumby advocates who hike out to visit them regularly. The government has exaggerated the numbers to an extreme to justify the killing and also the damage claimed by the government is also exaggerated. They just want them gone, as simple as that. Please don’t believe their stories and use your own commonsense and make your own determinations.

Kelly Slater5:04 pm 27 Mar 24

There is no way near the amount of horses in the park that is being bandied around. Even if there were aerial culling is disgustingly cruel. Horses are flight animals so chasing them and mowing them down with semi automatic rifles is just inconceivable
Calling them feral only makes it easier for people to accept this behaviour. They are now and always will be wild horses or Brumbies..

Victoria Incani12:41 pm 30 Mar 24

Wild horses are not the same as feral horses. Brumbies are feral, not wild.

Stop this madness now.
Shooters, Farmers and Fishers Party, which sided with the Labor and Greens majority, Along with RSPCA should hang their heads in shame. Politicians are lying to us using false information
Anyone who believes they are invasive and cause all this damage are fools
I live in the area. I see how lush and thriving the land is. Get up here and see for yourself don’t rely on any dribble Penny Sharpe is giving you she has no idea.
Leesa Hearn Merimbula

patricia gardiner10:47 am 27 Mar 24

Ms Hurst’s philosophy of not killing any animal is seriously flawed. If we do not control feral animals they will ultimately destroy our native animal population. She can’t have it both ways.
No one cares how many feral horses are destroying the unique alpine environment – we care about saving it.

Victoria Incani12:42 pm 30 Mar 24

Totally. The counts are irrelevant, but that is the only argument Brumby supporters have, so they clutch to it vehemently.

I had a good look at the aerial images and if they want us to believe the official estimation is 90% out all I can say is more horses need to go. The open plains were denuded of the normal grass and it was chequered with tracks. The damage caused was obvious. If 300 horses can do all that damage the problem is far worse than I imagined. Horses would be the most destructive invasive species in the park. The Federal government needs to step in and have the management plan revoked or changed. The 2016 planned allowed for 600 horses to remain and that would be more acceptable.

And just to clear up something that most seem to have forgotten. The management plan states clearly horses will be removed completely from certain areas regardless of how many are left in the park. Horses currently occupy 53% of the park but are being restricted to a very generous 32%. 3000 horses can remain in that 32% but that is a combined total for all retention areas. If there are 3000 horses in the southern retention area (pilot) there can be zero in the other areas. The method used for the so called independent count is useless in timbered areas and I can tell you from personal experience there are huge numbers in those areas. So this count cannot cannot be applied to the rest of the park.

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