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

Julie Julie 1:53 pm 18 May 20

Save the horses. We put them there. They carried our civilisation into the modern world. We owe them. If this alpine flower is precious then provide land elsewhere; but it’d not the brumbies’ fault- it’s ours. We are the worst threat to the ecosystem.

Donaldson family Donaldson family 1:34 pm 18 May 20

There’s got to be better, more humane ways of dealing with this. Just find them!

Elaine Delaney Elaine Delaney 12:39 pm 18 May 20

I would like to add my voice to the tidal flood of voices concerned about the decisions being made to destroy hundreds of brumbies in the Victorian Alps, by shooting them.
Choices that are being made now will affect not only the brumbies, but all of us as a people and nation, for future generations to come.
‘A nation and its people will be judged (by history,future generations and the planet as a whole) by the way they treat their animals’ – and indeed, all those who are most vulnerable!
Never underestimate the power of one person with passion, purpose and commitment.
I trust you know the story of Temple Grandin. This remarkable woman with autism, has changed the way humans treat animals. Temple’s passion was improving conditions for all animals, notably for cattle and other domesticated stock. Her tireless efforts have changed the world for millions of animals and humans.
Ms Grandin is now widely acknowledged for her humanity, her respect for life and for choosing a more positive approach on how we interact with all creatures great and small, even when she faced great opposition and ridicule.
“Nature can be cruel – humans NEED NOT BE!” Temple Grandin
Humanity right now has been given a prime opportunity, to choose a different approach on how we treat our planet and all who call this incredible space home.
I trust you will reconsider and ponder upon what you may be able to conceive and put in place that would allow a more positive outcome for all, in this particular instance, our iconic brumbies.
There are ALWAYS different approaches and perspectives on how specific goals may be achieved.
Why not take the time to consider other possibilities?
In this day and age of incredible achievements and knowledge, there are surely competent, caring people within our own nation, who would be keen and able to advise, plan and put into action, more humane, respectful and kinder approaches to realising these same goals.
You are currently in a unique position. To those who have been given much (power/responsibility) – much is expected!
The brumbies have been in these ‘pristine’ areas for decades, with very little ‘adverse’ effect.
The major change, is mankind’s approach and departmental body guidelines on how we utilise and manage these areas. These rulings have led to ongoing decline in the previous pristine conditions within these spectacular regions of our great nation and the upsurge of noxious weeds and feral animal populations.
Why rush headlong into controversial decisions right now?
How will the perhaps, ill-advised, over-reaction against perceived damage by one species, i.e. brumbies, change deteriorating conditions in our National Parks?
What would be an estimate of acceptable numbers of brumbies in these regions?
What other options could there be for those wild horses who need to be removed?
How could the presence of wild brumbies be an added attraction for visitors and tourists alike, to these spectacular regions of our beautiful country?
What ongoing decisions would have the most benefit, to allow our National Parks to flourish, providing an overall healthy, bountiful display of nature’s wonders to the world?
Now is your time and now is the hour for you to act, so people will remember the choices and outcomes for these national icons from our past, to the present day and into the future.
I pray you will choose wisely.
kind thoughts
Horses Teaching Humans Herd – and their humans
Elaine and Mike Delaney
Laggan NSW 2583

    Ayla Zelandonii Ayla Zelandonii 1:42 am 20 May 20

    This is the kind of intelligent discourse required on this most pressing issue. Wholesale brutal slaughter is not the way, allowing barbaric cruelty because some people today have deemed brumbies to be the biggest threat to ecosystems, amazingly not humans, diminishes us all. We can and must do better. Thank you.

Nicole Nicole 12:08 pm 18 May 20

I do not believe for one second that the numbers are as high as claimed. I grew up in the Snowy Mountains of NSW, during my childhood you didnt have to go far to see the wild horses, But these days you can be driving for an hour before you spot your first, and often, only mob. Interesting that during the recent fires, the areas where the brumbies roam were the least impacted by the fires. Brumbies can help lower the fuel load so when a fire does go through, it isnt as bad as the areas which arent frequented by brumbies. There were losses of horses during that fire event of 2019/2020, the question is how many? There are more humane ways to manage numbers without the culling, Take a look at how the Americans are managing theirs, using birth control as a way of maintaining numbers without allowing the numbers to get too high. It can be done, If only the powers that think they know what to do will listen!

Daphne Dunphy Daphne Dunphy 11:36 am 18 May 20

It is my opinion, and many on the ground re-enforce this, that the so called multiplying numbers of brumbies has been grossly miscalculated. As well the brumbies have been blamed for destruction of grasses and flora which have been caused by other elements including deer and bushfire. These horses have historic connections in Australia and in fact are far stronger than pure breds. They have been in these territories for close to 200 years. How is it the country has survived with them during this period given their supposed destuctive traits?

Anne Mann Anne Mann 11:26 am 18 May 20

I am appalled that the automatic reaction in Australia is to cull. There are better ways. The cause of most of these problems is the human race. Aerial shooting of these beautiful creatures is barbaric and dreadfully cruel, leaving animals maimed and suffering. I just can’t believe that the government condones this. Unbelievable. I hope the people concerned can sleep at night. It must be stopped.

Kat Wykoff Kat Wykoff 10:48 am 18 May 20

I’m not an Australian, I’m an American, so I really have no right to tell you what to do, but if you slaughter these horses, you will regret it. It will be a stain on your country that horse lovers world wide will never forget, and your own people will never forgive. Find another way. We struggle with the same issue, and we have avoided the atrocity of what you are considering. Save your heritage, and the lives of your brumbies. They are a part of who you are.

    Graeme James Graeme James 3:40 pm 18 May 20

    I am an Australian and I totally agree with you

Madeleine Cannon Madeleine Cannon 10:47 am 18 May 20

I agree horse numbers need to be controlled but not by shooting. I also know that it is pig and deer that do the most damage wallowing and tearing up the springs and swamps. Horses do not like walking on insecure or boggy footing.

Norm Gray Norm Gray 10:40 am 18 May 20

Every High Country horseman & horsewoman, and anyone else who can sit astride a horse, should be prepared to bring the horses to the City to make it VERY clear that destroying Australia’s culture by shooting horses will never be accepted.

Gayle Collins Gayle Collins 10:35 am 18 May 20

Leave the horses alone , let them eat the grass less fuel for fire season.

Suzy Suzy 10:20 am 18 May 20

There are too many discrepancies on numbers and damage – this is not a humane practice – what and who are really doing the damage – not enough information – shooting these brumbies is not the easy fix and is not Australian! Any research must include the experts that have lived there since settlement!

Rolfe Rolfe 9:56 am 18 May 20

Save these beautiful animals

Dee Copeland Dee Copeland 9:54 am 18 May 20

Save our Brumbies! Don’t shoot them…regime them!! 👍🏻🙏🏻🥰

Brenda Brenda 9:51 am 18 May 20

There may be issues, but killing is not the answer. It’s not a new dilemma so figure out a better way to handle it. Seriously.

Jennifer boyd Jennifer boyd 9:32 am 18 May 20

Give the brumby lovers time to get them out!! Shoot the pigs!!

Debbie Breen Debbie Breen 9:30 am 18 May 20

Stop this insane cull!! Too many animals have already died in the fires, drought and from shootings! Enough is enough! They are not responsible for the destruction of their environment! They have been a part of the landscape for over 130 years!! STOP IT !!!!!

Jenine H Jenine H 9:24 am 18 May 20

Control the numbers, I understand this may be necessary but listen to the people of the high country who say the deer population explosion is responsible! Do not rid us of the Brumbies!! They are a part of our Folklore! It sounds as though the Victorian government want rid of all the Brumbies! Stop the cull and look at a non murderous way to control the numbers. There has to be a way! A gelding program of a few stallions in a herd. Just shooting them is disgusting and wrong.

Shirley Mcpherson Shirley Mcpherson 9:13 am 18 May 20

Bring in a fertility plan. Have an independent company do a count. There are conflicting accounts of the numbers.

Catherine Catherine 8:57 am 18 May 20

I think it’s absolutely disgusting what they are doing
Stalking brumbies AT NIGHT WITH SILENCERS!!
It’s NOT a war zone looking for an enemy!
I am ashamed to be an Aussie right this minute!!!
Everyone knows That the horses are being used as scapegoats for the damage that is getting done by the deer and the pigs
Everyone knows that pigs wallow and root the ground up and have 6 piglets each litter and the deer are the ones that are damaging the trees as they rub and chew the bark off
Proper management all round is needed not a blood bath!!!!
You Parks Victoria should be ashamed of yourselves and hang your heads in shame for this bloody awful disgusting lies and the way you were sneaking around to MURDER these animals

We want this looked into and PROPER UNBIASED Reports done – not fudged ones !!!!

David David 8:53 am 18 May 20

No environment can sustain uncontrolled animal populations. Culling, whether it’s natural (predators/fire/drought/flood/disease) or artificial is necessary for both herd and environmental health.
Sooo it comes down to the process of reducing numbers.
Historically, wild horses were escaped/freed domestic stock and reflected the bloodlines of those stock – they were generally Arab/thoroughbred/draft derivatives and generally good types that were of value, especially as cavalry remounts – they were a “managed” wild herd.
Their quality was deliberately maintained with the strategic occasional release of a quality stallion.
Nearly a century of inbreeding has produced a mixed bag of feral animals, of varying degrees of quality – some have excellent conformation…some are rubbish.
Number control is necessary – thoughtful genetic selection, rather than total genetic destruction would meet both environmental and historic objectives.