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

Gary Gary 1:57 am 18 May 20

Shoot em.

Deborah Walsh Deborah Walsh 1:12 am 18 May 20

More money for inadequate Park management
Do not shoot the Brumbies !!!

Wendy Buss Wendy Buss 12:57 am 18 May 20

Save them, maybe trap & rehome some, but don’t cull them !!

Crissy Crissy 12:57 am 18 May 20

It’s the feral pigs they should be removing! Not the Brumbies.

Catherine Bowler Catherine Bowler 12:26 am 18 May 20

Attempting to cull horses like this is barbaric to say the least and shame on anyone who is invovled in the slaughter if it goes ahead. My friends and I in the UK have been watching this situation develop. We have roaming horses in some areas here in the UK but there would be a riot if a cull such as this was suggested as a way to control numbers. What are the Australian authorities thinking??? In the UK many of us are just speechless that this cull was even thought about, let alone being given the go ahead. Hang your heads in shame Aussies for even thinking of this as a solution. FIND A MORE HUMANE ANSWER!!!!

Sharon Sharon 11:57 pm 17 May 20

There is one thing that I have learnt about Australia is that nothing dies So much of our native flora needs fire to regenerate. The Parks Victoria had a plan for 2018 – 2021 to trap and rehome. Never to shoot healthy horses from the air or the ground till after 2021. Everything was to be openly discussed not to be sneaky and organise the shooting at night with silencers without even informing the judge that this is what they were planning to do. To go against their forward plan for the area I am sure that the locals are not aware of the 1300 deer that has been removed. As there has never been an actual count done on the Brumbies in the area as we are getting figures of anything from 100 to 25,000 and they are saying that they are going to eradicate all the Brumbies. Does this mean that all we are going to see when we visit this area in future to see the free and roaming Brumbies will only be the skeletal remains of an animal that the blood lines on some can be traced back to the first fleet. This is the way we treat these beautiful creatures with a bullet just as they were treated overseas during the war as only one was given the acknowledgement of the bravery of the thousands to be allowed to come home. This is a very big mistake being made by Parks Victoria and Daniel Andrews.

Kay Farley Kay Farley 11:56 pm 17 May 20

The horses are beautiful and part of our heritage. Their numbers should be managed humanely and never ever culled. That is shear cruelty.

Maria Lisa Polegatto Maria Lisa Polegatto 11:44 pm 17 May 20

Horses assist in nutrient transfer between land, air and water, especially wild horses, research supports this, and trampling is good for the soil for regrowth of nature. Wild horses can be tamed also so give them away, sell them but don’t hurt them.

Carol Carol 11:23 pm 17 May 20

Trapping and rehoming yes. Shooting no no no.

Evelyn Rupp Evelyn Rupp 10:56 pm 17 May 20

The numbers of brumbies are inaccurate. The damage done to the bush is done by deer and wild pigs. Studies have been done by brumby groups that have been ignored by Parks and environmentalists because they didn’t fit their agenda, which is the eradication of our Heritage Horses.

Samara finch Samara finch 10:42 pm 17 May 20

Please save the brumbies

Julianne Julianne 10:24 pm 17 May 20

I think it is an absolute disgrace that they are going to shoot these beautiful horses. Shame on the environmental groups for thinking it is okay to kill these animals who are being blamed for damage they haven’t caused. I wish those wonderful horseman a safe journey bringing these horses to safety.

Gayle Lowe Gayle Lowe 10:21 pm 17 May 20

They must stop this shameful massacre. I do not need to say why,.. every decent, true Australian understands why without any of us having to give 101 reasons…. just make them stop

A. Quinn A. Quinn 10:21 pm 17 May 20

Whilst I understand that it is in human nature to protect the land and preserve it. My question is; Does killing many animals fall under that greedy jurisdiction and is it justifiable by law? If so then is it humanely and morally justified? I think not!
I am a very distant descendant of Native American tribes but that compassion for animals still flows through my veins everyday and it will till my last breath. You must find more resources to save them. By the way how do you expect to dispose of all the brumby bodies your snipers shoot? Surely that is an environmental issue you will have to address once you start killing.


A.K. Quinn

    Catherine Catherine 8:59 am 18 May 20

    They will leave them there to rot and to feed the feral pigs and then watch that population explode

Chris Tester Chris Tester 10:17 pm 17 May 20

The horses do less damage to the environment than the deer & pigs but no one is doing anything about them. If one bushman & or their horse is injured or killed during this “cull” there will be a war !

B Keane B Keane 10:00 pm 17 May 20

What about the Wild Pigs. They destroy the land.
More true investigation needs to be done.
Not Killing the Brumbies !!!

Heather Buck Heather Buck 9:48 pm 17 May 20

Brumbies are very important to our economy system. They are our Heratige. They helped build our county Natures lawnmowers. Have a look at the pigs and deer.

Frank and Jenny Flissinger Frank and Jenny Flissinger 9:47 pm 17 May 20

These horses have been there for over 100 yrs and never hurt the area before. Now the pig and deer numbers are exploding. The numbers that they say are also growing over the last few years are hard to believe we have been in servere drought at that time. The alpha mare will it let mares breed as she is in charge.
I saw and article written by one of these experts that had unbelievable numbers of horses after bushfires and drought having two foals a year as gestation is 11 months for a foal the numbers don’t stack up.
I looked at the pictures vp took and anybody can see it is a soak and all little hoof prints. Dear or most probably pigs wallowing in the mud.
I noticed that in this article that the places that did not burn were where the horses had been.
I see them as an assist for this area.

Lyn Barrass Lyn Barrass 9:44 pm 17 May 20

Removing the Brumbies is a huge mistake , target the real problem which are the feral pigs and deer of which there is ample proof in photos and regular trips to the areas by Brumbies activists . The numbers which have been provided by parks has been severely blown up as the numbers of Brumbies is far below the figures given . Many of our Brumbies died in the bushfires and this also hasn’t been taken into consideration. There are humane ways of keeping the horse numbers down without shooting them . As they are shooting at night they won’t have any idea which horses they are slaughtering and foals will be left without their mothers and will more than likely die extremely sad deaths if not shot . This whole slaughter is being watched by Australians who are against it and many people from around the world . Please Parks do your homework more carefully and rethink this tragic mass killing of beloved heritage horses and start looking at the positives the horses bring to the national parks . Wild horses are nomadic herbivores they enrich their environment with their unique digestive system which allows for regeneration of seeds and grasses . They have selective grazing patterns which create habitats for bugs and birds . There are many European countries that have reintroduced their wild horses back into the forests and landscapes. Please lookup the GrazeLIFE project 💔😢

Belinda Kang Belinda Kang 9:40 pm 17 May 20

Its the pigs and deers that are doing all the damage..cull them but the Vic Govt won’t because they earn massive income from hunting season. The horse numbers are exaggerated and unproven. Pigs are doing the damage to the moss, there is photos of them creating walloing stations but the Vic Govt wouldn’t accept this photographic evidence..