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

Faye Maree Faye Maree 8:50 am 18 May 20

Please save our Brumbys our heritage….I own horse’s and I’ve oened 2 Brumbys but now only have one Brumby left….and one of my old horse’s I have have owned but gone, was one of the horse’s that actually was riden in the man from snowy river….back in her younger day’s….so this is very important that our horse’s and heritage is saved from this horrible disgustingly rude cruelity acted on the Brumbys 🥺🥺💔💔🤬🤬🤬🤬

Sandra Johnson Sandra Johnson 8:32 am 18 May 20

Look at what can be done in America. They control their wild horses without mass shootings. We show case these horses to the world as our heritage when it suits us then shoot them when we are too bloody lazy to organise an alternative. The world must think we are mad.

Michele Timmins Michele Timmins 8:14 am 18 May 20

My opinion the wild horses are a asset to the high country as they are selective grazers & create open areas which also benefit native species, areas which would be otherwise be overwhelmed with bushy scrub. They do not wallow or destroy waterways, they don’t eat or damage trees.

Deborah Deborah 7:57 am 18 May 20

There is nothing more heinous or repulsive than the act of the worst species on this earth, the most destructive, evil, cruel, earth damaging selfish narcissistic species, HUMANS!!!, playing God over other animals lives.
Leave our Brumbies where they belong!!!
Look in the God damned mirror, we are destroying everything!!!!

Amanda Wicks Amanda Wicks 7:52 am 18 May 20

They should not be hunted and destroyed, they should be saved and relocated.

Elaine BUTLER Elaine BUTLER 7:39 am 18 May 20

Brumbies are the scapegoats. Leave them alone or try to restrict future numbers by a humame method.

Kylie Kylie 7:32 am 18 May 20

Horses have an 11 month gestation. It beggars belief how the experts claim numbers have tripled in a few short years. The damage in question is not something I’ve ever seen horses do. This is a criminal, barbaric act by the government.

Margaret Dubois Margaret Dubois 7:21 am 18 May 20

I have to laugh at National Parks and Wildlife. I grew up in high country with Brumbies on our property. Brumbies help keep the undergrowth down and they do not bog up waterholes or destroy fragile vegetation. By keeping the undergrowth down in poorly accessible areas, Brumbies help prevent bushfires that destroy native vegetation and wildlife.

Janey T Janey T 7:12 am 18 May 20

No emphasis put on the MASSIVE population of wild pigs up there. They are extremely destructive! Horses have one foal a year. Pigs can have 2 litters with each litter consisting of up to a dozen piglets. I really don’t like killing of any sort but in this circumstance, everything MUST be looked at closely. We owe these horses and the Heritage that goes with them. 🐎🐎🐎

Rebecca Crotto Rebecca Crotto 6:45 am 18 May 20

Animal Welfare and the humane treatment of animals is number one when controling population. Especially when it comes to an animal like the wild Brumbie horses we owe unmeasurable respect to for the history of human survival. Arial culling like that done in Australia in Oct 2000 created unnecessary pain and suffering beyond comprehension, a disturbing and sick act.

Janelle Johnston Janelle Johnston 6:44 am 18 May 20

Can there be a yearly roundup and horses rehomed. Cheaper prices to make it more affordable to purchase and the proceeds go towards the upkeep of the herd. Maybe the weaker or sick animals can be euthanized. I don’t agree with the night shooting. It needs to be more controlled. Mares with foals at foot will be shot, etc.

Annette Annette 6:35 am 18 May 20

I would like to see actual numbers not guestimates. I can’t believe that the number of Brumbies would be around 25,000 not with drought and horrendous bushfires to cap off the last 6 years, I cannot see that the headcount would be possible. I believe our Brumbies should have a place in our high country, the damage that is being put down to their activity is questionable as we have some other very destructive animals invading the parks. Horses live harmoniously and without malous intent on other animals unlike pigs, cats and dogs that ravage nests, watersites and borrows our native animals are also being let down by tunnelvision. Okey pointed towards our Brumbies the most harmless of neighbours.

Marylou Kaler Marylou Kaler 6:28 am 18 May 20

I support the horses. Financially, from abroad while a humane plan is fianaced and put in place. As far as the horses being an invasive species I’d say that title goes to the consumer, the city dwelling humans.

Carolyn Cooper Carolyn Cooper 6:25 am 18 May 20

IN WW1 these horses went to war to save our country … as far as causing damage you definitely have it wrong wild pigs .. wild goats and dear are causing the problems .. with the fires where the horses are grazing the fires were not as bad for they had kept the fodder down so the fires could not catch on and take off

Monika Walton Monika Walton 6:25 am 18 May 20

Get rid of the deer, they are not native, leave our brumbies alone, they are part of our heritage.

Gloria Woodward Gloria Woodward 5:52 am 18 May 20

Shame on the people who have made the decision to shoot and kill the horses who are part of our heritage. Shame on the professional shooters they have hired to kill them. I can’t begin to imagine how anyone could shoot mares in foal or who have foals that they are successfully caring for….how absolutely terrifying for them. What sort of mentality thinks this is appropriate…..I’m ashamed to know they are Australians.

Jackie Kelly Jackie Kelly 5:08 am 18 May 20

Killing is never the answer! They need an immediate stop order for the “killing” and an order for an outside(those not directly involved in the benefit) source with expertise on this issues to study and make recommendations.

Tania Llewellyn Tania Llewellyn 3:20 am 18 May 20

Disgraceful of the Australian government. Please rethink because the eyes of the world are watching.

Joanne Gura Joanne Gura 2:30 am 18 May 20

This is such a sad act… they know the horses do no damage… they can’t stand that they just run free… I hope that they find a way to respect them and leave them alone… if they worked things the right way, these horses could help them fight wild fires, but that must just make too much sense. A huge thank you to the group who is working to save them. Thank you all. Please share this article with all.

Barbara Kramer Barbara Kramer 1:58 am 18 May 20

It’s not the brumbies, look at deer and wild pigs. It’s just awful to kill these wonderful brombies. Stay away from them. Its a shameful massacre to these wildies. STOP IT NOW !
I hope, these wonderful horsemen will be able to save these souls.
Shame on the people deciding this cruelty 💔