5 January 2024

Support sought for high-tech count of Kosciuszko's wild horses

| Edwina Mason
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wild horses standing in the bush in Kosciuszko National Park

State-of-the art technology that allows Australian farmers to view pests and crop stress from above, will be deployed to provide an independent count of the wild horses in Kosciuszko National Park. Image: Snowy Brumby Adventures with Michelle and Ian.

Brumby supporters are in the throes of calling for crowdfunding support to finance a new, highly sophisticated independent count of wild horse populations in Kosciuszko National Park (KNP).

As the NSW Government stands poised to commence aerial shooting of the horses, independent biostatistician Clare Galea has thrown her weight behind leading edge technology as an alternative measure of the numbers of horses in the park.

Using high-definition airborne cameras, she says high resolution imagery of open terrain in KNP combined with machine learning computer analytics and the latest artificial intelligence (AI) software should mean every horse in the surveyed area is accounted for.

When results are peer reviewed, the raw data will be made available to relevant parties to be cross-checked for integrity.

Developed by South Australian remote sensing and data analytics company, Airborne Logic, the technology has already been widely adopted for high quality analysis of crops, vegetation, assets and surface topography to provide actionable advice to farmers, government agencies and private companies.

Ms Galea says these advanced techniques would achieve far higher accuracy and open accountability in KNP.

The survey area will be limited to open terrain in the ‘Northern Block’ where most of the horses reside.

“The open terrain will provide clearer imagery and a very high level of accuracy when counting with software,” Ms Galea said.

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Wild horse population surveys are prepared by Dr Stuart Cairns of the University of New England’s School of Environmental and Rural Science on behalf of NPWS using a method known as distance sampling.

These were undertaken in 2014, 2019, 2020, 2022 and October 2023 – the last of which estimated KNP’s wild horse population as between 12,934 and 22,536 horses, with a best estimate of 17,432 remaining.

This number has been widely disputed by locals and brumby advocates who have suggested the population now sits in the low thousands.

Foal in car

Efforts to rescue orphaned brumby foals continued over the Christmas period. Image: Snowy Brumby Adventures with Michelle and Ian.

Ms Galea says her primary goal is not to prove the current methodology inaccurate but to get the government to adopt more accurate and accountable methods of counting animals.

“This is not only for wild horses – as technology improves the same methods can be used on smaller species such as kangaroos, koalas, wild pigs and wild deer.”

She says the benefits of using advanced image recognition, machine learning and computer science for identification of animals is well documented.

“AI techniques which use imagery to accurately identify animals are rapidly advancing, helping scientists and data analytics companies to improve the overall success of animal identification,” she said.

“We will accurately count the overall number and the density of horses to provide imagery that can be independently assessed.”

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She’s confident the density will be significantly lower than NPWS states, which she says will demonstrate the need for the government to cease relying on the current counting methods.

“There has been much commentary and dispute on actual wild horse numbers in the park, and this proposal aims to make real ground on the issue,” she said.

“To ensure the NPWS do not cull to a number less than this, accurate counting methods must be adopted,” Ms Galea said.

Around two thirds of the $75,000 cost of commissioning the new count has been raised in the 10 days since the GoFundMe crowdfunding campaign was launched.

Crackenback local Rocky Harvey has teamed up with Ms Galea to organise the online fundraiser and he says donations continue to flow in.

“Obviously we can’t start a thing until the funds – which are going straight into a trust – are secured,” he explained, “but we’re hoping to reach our target in the next week and then lock down time frames.

“We would certainly like to think the imagery flights are run in mid January followed on by data analysis,” he said.

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Marilyn Nuske8:29 am 18 Jan 24

Brumby Action Group Incorporated is a not for profit incorporated association, the purposes of which are the preservation and conservation of Australia’s wild living brumbies.
Our organisation fully supports the Campaign by Rocky Harvey and biostatistician Claire Galea for an independent count of brumbies in part of the park, that will be peer reviewed.
The peer reviewed count will be used as a timely springboard to encourage the NSW Govt to meet its duty and obligations to respect the Legislative requirement to retain no less than 3000 brumbies in retention zones. The Legislation also requires the Heritage value of brumbies must be protected so we shall also be encouraging the NSW Govt to take that into consideration when we continue lobbying for a count using technologically advanced methodology
The Campaign has been well received and is clearly supported by the brumby community which has been calling for better methods to count brumbies for over a decade

I take it Margaret you are responding to me. Thanks for taking the time and effort but it is clear you are just another with ears blocked and eyes wide shut. You don’t want to see the evidence or deny it much like those who believe the earth is flat.

You tick nearly all the boxes with the sort of rhetoric provided on the various facebook pages so I can see you have learned them well but do you have any real experience yourself? I know arguing with you will not change your mind. It is clearly fixed but others might benefit from debunking the lies or misrepresentation spread by the various advocacy groups.
I bet you are a science denier when it suits. There does not need to be peer reviewed papers to show the damage. Any lay person can see it. The video in my previous post will be enough.
How many horses do you claim are there? I have heard some say less than 2000 and we are to believe that number will keep fuel loads down. The grazing reduces blazing myth is debunked here: https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/abs/10.1111/aec.12104
The concave hoof collects mud and can transfer weed see and other pathogens. The outer edge of the horses hoof takes all the weight when the foot lands and that is quite a small area so the force/sq cm is quite large so horse hoof impact is high.
Horses have a similar relationship to man as do dogs and cats. Wild dogs and cats are shot or poisoned. The cattle industry in Australia is 30 times bigger than the horse industry (just in numbers) and contributes proportionately more to the GDP.
DNA testing of these horses has shown many known breeds of horses common throughout the world. They are not rare. Being there for 200 years is nothing compared to other species under threat of extinction.
Again, watch the video link in my other post to understand why the horses are impacting on the Corroboree frog and the Broad toothed rat which have survived many fires.
The Man from Snowy river is a poem describing the problem pastoralists had with wild horses stealing good stock. Brumbies did not open the Olympic games. That was a tribute to the Australian stock horse and no feral horses were used. Banjo Paterson is quoted advocating the culling of wild horses because they were in plague numbers. The culture of the day was to shoot all feral horses and sell the hide and hair. They were considered a pest then as well but for economic reasons.

Aerial shooting is the MOST humane method of removing horses from the park. You have no evidence of abandoned foals caused by these actions. It is more Facebook fantasy as is everything you have written.

Edwina, I see you as a thoughtful and intelligent person in all aspects except when it comes to feral horses. You need to take half an hour from your life to watch this https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ho8NlTzLV-8&ab_channel=InvasiveSpeciesCouncil%2CAustralia
and if you still have the same view your eyes and mind are simply shut. If feral horse numbers are actually what the supporters propose the problem is significantly worse. Like you, I own horses but unlike you I can see the damage my horses do to soft, wet and fragile soil. And that is on my property. After watching this video I fail to see how any reasonable person could continue to support the destruction caused by horses. It is not about passing blame to other animals or even man. It is about accepting the part horses play and supporting action to remove them. From my own observations as someone who lives in and travels throughout the alpine environments affected by horses I have no doubt horses are the major contributor to habitat destruction.

An Ecologist6:14 pm 06 Jan 24

The horse controversy has similarities to many other disagreements that involve scientists on one side, e.g. the biodiversity crisis, climate change, GMOs, vaccination, evolution, astrology, chemtrails, flat earth, homeopathy, crystal healing, divining rods, auras, chakras, qi, and reik.

Wildlife controversies are common around the world and most involve disagreement with the scientific counts. Some controversies have also featured ‘alternative’ counts, such as this one. All the alternative counts I am familiar with have been proposed and conducted by people with no ecology qualifications, training, or experience in the estimation of abundance of large populations of wildlife, and used no recognised ecological method. The horse count appears to be no exception.

A key point is that the count method in use since 2001 is an ecologically VALIDATED method, whereas the proposed alternative method has never been validated. By ‘validated’ I mean the method has been trialled on known populations and compared to other methods, and the results have been published in at least one of the ecology journals that deal with methods of abundance estimation. In this case, the current method has also been evaluated on horses in Kosci (two published papers).

The proposed alternative ‘independent’ method will use drones, thermal imagery, mark-recapture and artificial intelligence, according to their online information. There is no such method recognised in the ecology literature and as far as I can tell, nothing like it has ever been tried on any species in any habitat.

Some of the leading advocates of an end to horse control in Kosci are openly far right, anti-government, anti-vax, climate-change-denying, chem-trail-believers. People who finance such anti-science causes as these and the alternative count, probably do not deserve to sit at the adult’s table.

Margaret Wood5:21 pm 05 Jan 24

That is your opinion !
There is no peer reviewed science to back up the claims of damage that horses do in KNP .
At least the horses have some positive affects in keeping fuel loads down, and are simply not in the numbers claimed ! If you look at the Cairns methodology It’s biologically impossible .
Horses do keep fire loads down and are used in European alpine areas to regenerate now !
The underside of a horses hooves are concave protecting flora underneath and are completely different to say a deer or pig ! Who do far more damage .
Climate change , human mismanagement, lack of government funding are far more detrimental to the Park !
Research needs to be done on all these aspects relating to KNP.

Horses have a different relationship with man than many animals , the Equine Industry is far bigger than the Beef Industry , why ?? Because people have relationship to horses and have had for millennia , there’s a reason for that ! One perhaps you don’t understand .
Many also don’t understand the genetics of these horses are rare and unique ! Found nowhere else in the world !
The horses have been there for over 200 years , why suddenly are they killing wildlife ! We all know the Corroboree frog is being killed by a fungus and climate change ! They had a program on the long tooth rat on the ABC the other week and the experts cited wild cats, climate change and foxes its demise , nothing mentioned about the horses !
Fires 🔥 will burn so hot that nothing will remain ! The Ideology of Wilderness will destroy this country !
The common sense of locals that know and live next to the Park need to be listened to also !

The Horses are also a tourist attraction , if you look at the visitors books in the huts nearly all entries mention the horses with positivity !
The theme, The Man from Snowy River is Australian falk law, like it or not !
We have football teams named after the Brumbies , books written about them and they did carry our soldiers to war , they opened our Olympic Games !
Now all of a sudden they are victims of cancel culture .
Stop demonising the horses , they really are the least of the issues in the park now!
If there was a few good horse people employed to quieten the horses to halter and lead etc they could then be moved on to experts in Brumby sanctuaries to start and rehome ! If this had been handled properly it would have never come to this .
Aerial culling horses is barbarically cruel and if I went out and shot my horse in the paddock 7 to 15 times I would be prosecuted for cruelty ! Also the chase times horses are pursued is cruel . It’s against the law to terrorise an animal in this manner.
Many foals have been found alone and starving and also horses alone who have lost all the herd / family members , traumatised !
This isn’t humane or acceptable !
Start lobbying the government to make the funds available to manage properly !

What Ms Galea and many other horses supporters fail to understand about the numbers is any horse found in a removal or prevention area can be culled. No more than 3000 horses are to remain in the combined one third of the park allocated under legislation. The only number that matters outside the retention areas is zero. Atticus Fleming spoke to this at the senate inquiry and he also stated once horses have been removed from the designated areas a count would be made in the retention areas to determine any further operation requirements.

This so called independent count is worthless unless it takes in the entire park and not just those areas that suits this method. A large area in the northern part of the park has been designated for removal and prevention. There are thousands of horses in the Pilot and Byadbo Wilderness areas and if they number more than 3000 according to the official count it is within the parameters of the legislation to remove all the horses in the retention areas to the north regardless of numbers. What that shows is how stupid the legislation is. It was poorly drafted and the subsequent management plan came up with a figure to appease one member of parliament. It was not scientifically based.

Too many people are focused on the numbers instead of the amount of damage they do. So much money is wasted trying to appease people who think horses should be treated differently to any other invasive and damage causing pest. These horses have no heritage value. They were always considered a pest and shot in the thousands by pastoralists. That is the cultural heritage we should draw on.

patricia gardiner9:05 am 05 Jan 24

What a complete waste of money.
It doesn’t matter how many feral horses there are in KNP. Just one, is too many.

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