Riders and shooters to face off in Victorian Alps as horse lovers mount rescue mission

Edwina Mason17 May 2020
Victorian Alps

Perilous and wintery conditions await snipers and horse riders as they face off in the Victorian Alps tonight. Photo: Australian Brumby Alliance.

UPDATED, 11 PM: An application for an injunction preventing the Victorian Government from shooting any brumbies in the Victorian Alpine Country has now been filed in the Supreme Court of Victoria. This injunction application will now be heard on Monday (May 18) at 10.30 am

May 17, 8 pm: It’s a showdown with all the markings of Banjo Patterson’s colt from Old Regret, the one that got away. This weekend, a quiet insurgency is taking place in the Victorian Alps that otherwise would go unnoticed.

But for the objective.

The brumby – that wild iconic steed that divides opinions between individuals, communities, committees, politicians, conservationists, ecologists and scientists.

On one side are those who say wild horses have done immeasurable damage to fragile alpine ecosystems as their population explodes. On the other, a band of horse lovers determined to save animals they say are embedded in our heritage.

On the NSW/ACT side of the border, keen-eyed observers are watching the Victorian outcome ahead of the planned removal of 4000 horses from the northern end of Kosciuszko National Park.

And word up there in the rooftop of Australia, is that snipers are bedded down, sighting their rifles and stalking their prey in readiness for tonight’s darkness to shoot, at sight, hundreds of brumbies in Victoria’s Alpine National Park.

Those with the horse and heritage at their heart are digging in their spurs to see them saved, with experienced cattlemen and mountain riders moving into the high country to steer several mobs, including the prized Bogong brumby, with its 140-year-old bloodline, to safety.

Tonight or tomorrow – nobody actually knows when or where it’s to take place; but there are eyes to the sky, roads and the plains relaying updates down the bush telegraph.

The expected shooting cull on the Victorian side has been the most calamitous blow for brumby advocates since the May 8 federal court ruling from Justice Michael O’Bryan in favour of Parks Victoria to continue removing feral horses from Victoria’s Alpine National Park.

In bringing the action, Australian Brumby Alliance Inc. had specifically sought to stop Parks Victoria from trapping or removing any brumby in the Bogong High Plains area of the national park and, indeed, from taking action that might cause significant depletion of any of the other populations of brumbies in the national park.

But it was Justice O’Bryan’s view that, “retaining the current population of brumbies in the Bogong High Plains and Eastern Alps would not be an appropriate control of the threat they present to ecosystems, habitats and species in those alpine areas”.

That day, Parks Victoria, issued a statement welcoming the finding.

They also said that due to their inability to carry out their feral horse management plans, which include trapping and rehoming programs, for the past 18 months due to the injunction, numbers of feral horses had increased two to three times previous survey findings.

Numbers that hark back to autumn 2019, where 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 undertook a feral horse aerial survey in the Australian Alps.

Mirroring a 2014 survey, it found the estimated population of feral horses within the Australian Alps National Parks Survey area – North Kosciuszko, the Bago-Maragle and the large Byadbo-Victoria – had more than doubled in five years with the combined population estimate for the three blocks increasing from 9187 in 2014 to 25,318 in 2019.

This, they say, combined with the 2019-20 bushfires which impacted large areas of the Victorian Alps and resulted in significant loss of threatened native wildlife and ecosystems led to Parks Victoria concluding that remaining unburnt areas were being severely overgrazed and damaged by large numbers of feral horses.

“Given the current circumstances, Parks Victoria will be commencing an additional technique to control horses,” they stated.

“Small-team operations will be deployed into high-conservation priority locations where ground-based professional shooters will use thermal imaging and noise suppressors to cull free-ranging feral horses, under strict animal welfare protocols with expert equine veterinary oversight.

This will complement the current bushfire recovery works that have removed more than 1300 deer from fire impacted areas in eastern Victoria, the statement concluded.

As environmental groups applaud this action, there is conjecture about the legality of the lethal cull with brumby advocates saying this action was not among the control measures Parks Victoria’s outlined in their submissions to Justice O’Bryan.

Liberal MP Bill Tilley last week put out the call to ensure the historic Bogong Brumbies were given refuge, “until Victorian has a friendly government”.

He believes the decision to cull the brumbies is based on flawed evidence.

“Brumbies have been blamed for the damage being done by the explosion of deer in the high country,” he said, “locals will tell you that deer numbers are out of control”.

“As I have said in Parliament, it’s not the brumbies wallowing in the moss beds, nor is it the brumbies chewing and rubbing against the snow gums.

“Not brumbies but deer,” he said.

He and a band of 20 bushmen including cattleman Phil Maguire, comprising experienced mountain riders from the Snowies, Omeo, Gippsland and the Barmah have ridden into the snow strewn hills amid temperatures sitting around one degree – 11 at best – on a perilous journey through steep, rugged and dangerous terrain.

Their plan is to muster the Bogong mob to safety on private property belonging to Phil.

“It’s hard rugged country down on the sides where the brumbies spend the cold months,” Phil said, “it will be a very difficult undertaking in what might be very unpleasant conditions”.

Social media has exploded with support and reports of activity in the mountains have indicated the shooters are in place as protesters and riders have also gathered at Nunniong Plateau, Native Dog Flat and Mount Nelse, prepared stand in the open to prevent the horses from being shot.

On Friday Parks Victoria CEO Matthew Jackson said Parks Victoria has a legal and moral obligation to protect the native species at risk of extinction from the impacts of feral horses and other pest animals.

“The conservation of Alpine National Park is key to this. Native alpine plants and animals which are found nowhere else on the planet are not equipped to deal with the weight, grazing, hard hooves or trampling of feral horses.

“The 2019-20 bushfires wiped out very large areas of habitat for our unique native species. The areas less affected by fire now provide the only habitat for threatened native species and are being severely damaged by feral horses, whose numbers have significantly increased in the past five years.

“By removing large invasive herbivores from the sensitive landscape, Parks Victoria is providing a greater chance of survival for native species. Feral horse management is one component of an integrated approach to reducing the impacts of introduced animals in the Alpine National Park,” Mr Jackson said.

As late as Friday an undertaking was given by the Victorian Government to the Victorian Brumby Association that no brumbies on Bogong High Plains would be shot, but a small localised shooting operation was planned to take place tomorrow in the “severely fire impacted, high conservation area” in Victoria’s Eastern Alps.

This is an area locals say wasn’t impacted by fire because brumbies had kept the on-ground fuel load down.

Across the border, the NSW government is also facing increased pressure to cull brumbies in Kosciuszko National Park while the ACT Government says brumby numbers are destroying alpine sphagnum mosses and threaten the quality and quantity of the water supply for Canberra.

In 2018 the “Brumby Bill” legislation introduced by NSW Deputy Premier John Barilaro recognised and protected the heritage value and cultural significance of the Snowy Mountains brumby, prohibited lethal culling and allowed for the establishment of a new community advisory panel to advise the environment minister on a new management plan.

But in February 2020 the NSW Government announced around 4000 brumbies would be removed from Kosciuszko National Park as part of an emergency response to protect the alpine ecosystem after large areas were devastated by bushfires.

Three areas in the north of the park – Nungar Plain, Cooleman Plain and parts of Boggy and Kiandra plains – are being targeted for trapping and rehoming.

What's Your Opinion?

104 Responses to Riders and shooters to face off in Victorian Alps as horse lovers mount rescue mission

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Kathy Hill Kathy Hill 8:09 pm 17 May 20

Parks Victoria should be ashamed of their plan to kill Brumbies. East Gippsland folk have enough to deal with this will only see people’s mental health deteriorate.
Blocking people from commenting on their social pages is not okay.

Suzanne Evans Suzanne Evans 8:26 pm 17 May 20

Don’t slaughter our Brumbies !!!!!! It is nothing short of barbaric cruelty and inhumanity. The mental health of Australians will suffer enormously by this act of cruelty. It is against the will of thousands of Australians

AB AB 8:28 pm 17 May 20

They need to do an independently operated recount before any culling takes place as the numbers are severely wrong. It’s disgusting how the government takes one sided biased dribble from totally blind “enviromentilists” over real facts. Utterly disgusting that they go back on their word and shoot.

Christina Lecky Christina Lecky 8:33 pm 17 May 20

Canadians are watching this scene unfold. There are better conservation measures that can be taken then the outright shooting of these heritage horses. My heart breaks for all those people that and working so hard to stop this cull and for the beautiful Barmbies in the sights of gunman.

Karen Tobias Karen Tobias 8:42 pm 17 May 20

Under no circumstances should any Brumbies be shot in our National Parks, the numbers aren’t that large and any damage they do is minimal. They have been there for over 100 years they are our history our heritage. Leave them alone. They should listen to the public. Maybe put it to a vote.

Donna Field Donna Field 8:49 pm 17 May 20

I think it is abhorrent and disgusting that there was no mention of shooting the Brumbies in the Wild Horse Management plan at the Community consultation phase. Hasnt the Community been traumatised enough what with the Bushfires & COVID-19. Why cant the Govt & Parks Vic sit down with the Brumby advocate groups and discuss a sensible less barbaric plan and allow horse people the time to put forward requests to rehome the Brumbies. The Bogong Brumbies are directly related to our Walers who were good enough to go to war for us & were sacrificed except one. That is how Australia repaid them for their efforts. Brumbies are good enough to be in our govt tourism brochures when it suits them. I am very angry about this & will not be voting for Dan in the next election as he does not listen to his Community.

Tanya King Tanya King 8:50 pm 17 May 20

Are these politicians and their beloved, grant money based reports the same ilk that stopped the clearing of underbrush in the bush and helped cause the absolute devastation just endured in Vic and NSW?
The Greens are out of control and have a lot of bad decisions to answer for, to the Australian public.
Fence off two equal grazing areas, put two horses in one and two pigs in the other. Preferably with a wet area ie dam, creek etc in both. Leave them there for a week or so and see the difference in what is done to the land.
Tell me please, why wasn’t this, and other similar pertinent trials completed with all the Govt money spent on paying people to crucify our heritage animals, our national icons???

Dan Dan 8:52 pm 17 May 20

I have never read so many outright lies in a “real” story in all my life! I have spent many days/hours up there with the brumbies in vic high country. I have personally seen the clean bush land and brumbies in all their glory, majority of the parks information here is just a made up bunch of nonsense. The horses have so much grass and moss up there and they share the country with the natives I have seen it a lot, there is ample food for all to survive. I can prove this, I can get photo evidence and I’ll personally get video proof. Also the majority of deer culled in the fire damaged areas was from the fires! In the 130 years they have been there and a general life of 10 to 22 years how has this not become a problem much earlier? I lived in a fire damaged region, the new growth it well established and is now feeding the wildlife in the area! These people need to step out of the office and consult the real people. The country people, they have been living here for decades.

Debra Burge Debra Burge 8:52 pm 17 May 20

Barbaric, I am so ashamed of our government.

Jo Bower Jo Bower 8:53 pm 17 May 20

Everyone needs to calm down and stand back. Discuss rationally with countrymen who live in and know the regions and the horses and the impacts of ALL wildlife populations in these environmentally sensitive areas. Shooting wild horses who will be running in blind panic for their lives cannot be the best solution. Has humanity really come down to this? It feels as though Covid19 is being used as a smoke shield by the government – but when horse lovers are involved around the world I don’t think that’s going to work….Shane on you all.

Robyn Thiessen Robyn Thiessen 8:54 pm 17 May 20

Please keep reporting. We need an injunction to stop this action until an impartial recount of heritage brumbies is undertaken post catastrophic bushfires. Also , why is there no mention of the damage that the feral pigs and wild dogs are causing? It seems the brumbies are blamed for all the damage

Selena Ferguson Selena Ferguson 8:58 pm 17 May 20

This attrocious culling should be stopped. The numbers of the Brumbies that have been quoted have been exaggerated and are quite frankly impossible as horses just do not breed that quickly. The people who actually have lived and know these areas are the most knowledgeable about the terrain and the animals and what causes the damage, not the ones who sit behind a desk in the he city.
These horses are part of our heritage and history helping our soldiers during the war, working on the farms and now to be treated like this is simply unacceptable.

Jenny Scoble Jenny Scoble 8:58 pm 17 May 20

There are other ways to control their numbers. Im saying that as i do not believe that many exist anyway. After hundred of years its only now for some unexplained reason the Brumbies numbers exploded in the kast year or so says those against them? Horses are not easily bred to begin will not like flea as you lot asume. We! Ues humans who say we are so bloody intelligent carntwork out birth control as a valid means of careing properly for an over population situation for any species including ourselves show what idots are in charge of this stupity. The workd is watching. Dont make us look like murderes! There are other ways!

Cheryl Fahey Cheryl Fahey 8:59 pm 17 May 20

They should be left alone rehome some of them so there are not so many in one place they deserve to live a long happy life

Gary Cotchin Gary Cotchin 9:10 pm 17 May 20

The Parks Victoria quote above “They (aka Parks Victoria) also said that due to their inability to carry out their feral horse management plans, which include trapping and rehoming programs, for the past 18 months due to the injunction, numbers of feral horses had increased two to three times previous survey findings.” should be seen for the clear and obvious lie that this statement is. And when one lies like this then clearly they seek to cover their tracks in what has been a really dodgy process that they and the Minister put in place to arrive at the so-called ‘consultative’ Report that they now reply upon to slaughter innocent Brumbies and leave their rotting carcasses on the dirt they once roamed happily on when living in the way Mother Nature intended.

Bill Copley Bill Copley 9:20 pm 17 May 20

Parks estimates of brumby numbers are seriously flawed. The population of Dr al pigs and deer outweigh brumbies at least 300 to 1. Parks enjoys $55m in shooter licences for deer hunting.
They just won’t listen.
I’ve proposed a truce so that some calm thinking time can enable the assessment of a feasible, eco-brumby tourist sector. This would provide new jobs, and economic recovery for a covid-stricken Victoria.
Premier Andrew’s needs to rein in Parks Victoria.

    Maree Maree 5:06 am 18 May 20

    Valid points Bill. Hopefully with outpouring of concern for these iconic brumbies, the govt are listening….

Maree Cliff Maree Cliff 9:24 pm 17 May 20

Not denying marginal impact the brumbies may be having – their benefits are more than making up for lack of fire reduction management programmes. Priorities NEED to be re-evaluated & govt should wake up to see the bigger picture of environmental impact from other sources

Alley parker Alley parker 9:26 pm 17 May 20

It’s inhumane to shoot any animal and leave it to die slowly, and painfully. The government can deny all they like, but this is most surely the outcome of this cull. Make no mistake, Dan Andrews will be voted out!

Susan Quinnell Susan Quinnell 9:28 pm 17 May 20

Save the Brumbies
Research the wild pigs and deer damage

Kaze Kaze 9:30 pm 17 May 20

Is that all they care about, ‘the quality and quantity of the water for Canberra’.

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