Have you read the recent article on The Conversation? What do you agree with or disagree with?

by Catherine Russell, over 3 years ago
The response to this forum has been significant in a short period. Some valuable points have been made however to keep the online consultation credible, effective and respectful this forum has been closed early.

This article appeared on The Conversation and has been shared widely through the media in the following 24 hours. The reaction to the article includes a follow up piece with the academics and Peter Cochran in the  Sydney Morning Herald.  

As an article that is widely public and one that is related to the management of wild horses in the National Park – what do you think about it? 

Note that NPWS does not endorse or defend the The Conversation article but presents it as a perspective in the discussion about the management of wild horses in the National Park.

Don Driscoll and Sam Banks from the Australian National University share their recent experience in the Snowy Mountains. 

They write: When you think of horses in the Australian high country, you might imagine noble brumbies galloping out from snowgums across grassy peaks, tails and manes trailing like streamers. But on a recent trip to the Snowy Mountains in Kosciuszko National Park we made a grim discovery about these denizens of the Australian psyche.

THIS FORUM WAS CLOSED EARLY DUE TO SIGNIFICANT RESPONSES IN A SHORT PERIOD. 


free range cat over 3 years ago
I find myself in agreement with much of the criticism of this report and am particularly perturbed by its tabloid style.Regarding the claim that 20% of wild horses are ‘dying of starvation, poisoning, or dehydration each year’. The authors reference a 1999 report conducted by Thiele & Prober who rely on a 1993 study (Dobbie et al) for this figure.I would be interested to know why the authors preferred the mortality figures provided in Thiele & Prober’s (1999) report to the more recent paper by Dawson & Hone (2012), which estimated adult mortality in a nearby location at just 9%.Thanks,Dawson & Hone (2012)http://appliedecology.edu.au/wp-content/uploads/2014/04/2012_Dawson-Hone-Aust-Ecol-feral-horses.pdf
Geoffro C over 3 years ago
I think these guys that running about beating up their story about seeing horses eating another horse are destroying their own credibility continuing to argue in favour of there sightings without really knowing what they are talking about. I have been a livestock producer for years & have seen many times what hungry animals will do. I am not going to deny that theses horses may have been investigating the dead horse even using their sense of taste. The dead horse would have been opened up by some other animal, I find that eagles are most likely to open the stomach of dead animals & pull the intestines out. These horses may have looked a bit poor, they generaly do in the middle of winter, but they have adapted over many many decades to this situation & evolved to cope with it, they are hungry, not starving, there is a difference. These horses may have been eating undigested grasses from the dead horse's gut, remember these horses did not go to university & get fancy educations, they learn by working things out for themselves, they work things out by trying things & seeing what happens. They have never been told that even when hungry you don't nibble at the intestines of a dead horse so how would they know? You fellows should get back to your university &do something constructive instead of arguing faults about animals you obviously know very little about the nature of. When you have spent as long as I have developing an understanding of horses & how the behave & not embarking on petty arguements I & many others might take you seriously. I'm sorry if I offend but that how it comes across..
Don Driscoll over 3 years ago
Although there are more sophisticated ways to model horse populations, our calculations were based on the most recent estimates of horse numbers and population growth rates. We have assumed conservative density-dependent changes in population growth rates associated with changes in population size. All of our assumptions are based on either the recently released survey draft report, or on previous reports that we downloaded from this have-your-say web site. The numbers in those reports are based on the best available science, and they have been written by scientists with considerable expertise. I have pasted the details of our calculations below, and it includes links to documents that our numbers come from. (this information was also available via a link in The Conversation article). As we said in the article, there is plenty of room to quibble over the numbers, but, from our exploration of different realistic scenarios, it seems that under those realistic scenarios, there is a major animal ethics issue that so far has been ignored in the debate. Consider an even more conservative scenario than the ones we reported in The Conversation. I will give the actual numbers that our calculations produce, but they should be taken as approximations. If aerial culling could remove just one quarter of the horses per year, assuming the lowest population estimates (2777 in Northern Kosci, and 1109 in The Pilot area), and assuming the highest ever achieved number of horses trucked out (664), then after ten years, 2641 would be culled, 2113 would die of starvation and other causes reported by Theile and Prober, 916 would be rehomed, 2138 would be sent to the abattoir, and there would be 8 horses left in the park. Consider the same scenario, without any aerial culling and the numbers are 6848 that die on the mountain of starvation, dehydration or poisoning, 1992 horses rehomed (are that many homes available?), 4648 are sent to the abattoir, and 2958 are left in the park. If you do the sums, 11496 horses die (on the mountain or at the abattoir) without aerial culling. With aerial culling 6892 horses die. So, by these estimates, that's 4603 extra horses that suffer and die if aerial culling is not implemented. As an academic involved in wildlife research, I could never have the management experiment of no-cull trap-only approved by an animal ethics committee. It's unethical. Shooting horses is not nice, but the alternative is worse.There are strong ethical grounds for supporting aerial culling, and strong environmental grounds. That's a win-win. As ecologists and conservation biologists, Sam and I were as surprised as anyone to see cannibal horses. It has however, been previously reported in the UK. http://scribol.com/environment/31-horses-dead-of-neglect-survivors-resort-to-cannibalismThat article, and our observation, suggests that cannibalism in horses can occur when horses are suffering lack of food. METHODSFollowing aerial surveys in Autumn 2014, preliminary results from a draft report released at the end of August indicate the number of horses in Kosciuszko National Park is between 3886 and 7862 animals. There were between 2777 and 5893 in northern Kosciuszko, with a 17% rate of population increase, and between 1109 and 1969 in the Pilot area of southern Kosciuszko, with a 6% rate of increase. Although research is insufficient to know how many horses die each year, Theile and Prober suggested that on average, 20% of horses in the Victorian high country die of starvation, dehydration or from eating poisonous plants (http://www.australianalps.environment.gov.au/publications/research-reports/pubs/feral-horse-impacts-pt2.pdf). Quite likely these deaths occur unevenly over the years (http://www.esajournals.org/doi/abs/10.1890/07-1153.1) but, for our calculations, we assumed a 20% death rate. It would be unrealistic to use a constant rate of population increase, because population increase is linked to population density. We therefore assumed that the growth rate increases to 20% (http://theaustralianalps.files.wordpress.com/2013/12/2009feralhorsealpssurvey.pdf) as the population size decreases from the starting value to half that initial value. On the other hand, we also assume that the growth rate declines to zero as the population size increases from the starting value to twice that value. The starting values are set at the lowest estimate (3886 in total) or the highest estimate (7862 in total) in different scenarios. The number of horses removed by trapping is set at either the average number removed per year (186), or the maximum number removed in any one year (664) (http://www.environment.nsw.gov.au/resources/planmanagement/final/130067KNPImp1112.pdf). Thirty percent of these horses are rehomed and seventy percent end up at the abattoir. In scenarios where the number of horses remaining in the National Park is less than the number planned for removal, we reduced the number that can be trapped to half of the number of remaining horses. To consider aerial culling, we assumed that half of the feral horses remaining in any year could be destroyed. We made separate calculations for the Pilot and Northern Kosciuszko and added the results to get one value for the whole park.
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Bio-Brumby over 3 years ago
Hi Don, interesting reference. Found it under heading Feral Horse Biology which starts with “Feral horses occur in a range of habitats in Australia, from semi-arid plains to tropical grasslands and swamps, temperate ranges, small islands and sub alpine mountains”. As I read the section, the writer sets the scene across Australia, with some references just to Victoria. The full paragraph is “An average of 20% of a horse population, mostly juveniles and subadults, dies each year. Apart from human culling and harvesting, the main causes of death are associated with drought (thirst, starvation and poisonous plants), although bushfires may also cause dramatic local reductions in feral horse numbers in Victoria.” Maybe better not to confuse Australia Wide stats with Victorian Alps. Regards, Bio-Brumby
HVBA Vice President over 3 years ago
I came to this consultation process with an open mind. In fact I stood in the room with my fellow horse welfare advocates and backed the NSW Parks guys when people were saying how they could not be trusted with this process, this had been done before and it was always an unfair process. I told my fellow animal welfare advocates not to worry, I had worked closely with these people, I'm sure that they could be trusted, they want what we want, the humane management of the wild horses. When people started to question the impartiality of StraightTalk consultants, I said to give them a chance, that they are just trying to do their job. I am so sorry to my animal welfare friends. You were right. This process has become completely corrupted with the obvious bias of the National Parks personnel. It started with naming a community consultation process about a wild horse management plan "Protect the Snowies", this is not about that, this is one management objective, if we were talking about a complete pest species management plan maybe that name would be suitable, but here it is not. Yet we came anyway, with our backs already up, we came. We engaged, we offered solutions. Topic upon topic weighted in the direction of the negative and still we came. We had to beg to be allowed to have our true feelings heard, and when finally it was allowed, people filled the boards with beautiful tales of what their snowy brumbies mean to them. But just as the board was starting to become too positive, for some reason the admin decided to give this atrocious piece of cinematic dramatisation credit. I have been trying to write a response to this article for days, but I am too angry at the Administrators for there obvious bias that I cannot seem to start. If I write an article about the positive aspects of the brumbies, will you give it the same opportunity, would you tell people of the tourist advantages that the brumbies bring or how well they do at local shows because of their beauty and temperament, or what wonderful childrens ponies they makes etc etc or is fiction all you care about. This entire process has been corrupt from the moment it started, and I am sorry that I ever believed that it could be otherwise.The following addresses some of the more 'interesting' claims within the article.- There is currently no mustering done in Kozi, the only management is PASSIVE trapping. This is an extremely humane way to capture wild horses and I must say again, it is a testament to the skill of the people running the program how low stress it actually is. These horses are never terrified by this process, the people who run it are amazing and we thank them for their dedication to animal welfare.-Brumby dung does not smell like stable dung, this is a little oversight, but important nonetheless. Brumby Dung does not contain anything unnatural and as such smells a lot like cut grass after you've mown under a eucalypt tree, it smells like the bush, I should know I've picked up a handful and smelled it and you have to pick it up to get close enough to smell it because its really faint. Its interesting, when we get a new load of brumbies in the yards, for the first few days, there is really no smell unless you stick your nose up to it. Then as they eat the food we provide them, there gut composition must change because the dung starts to smell like domestic horse dung. Anyway I just wanted to point out that I think a little creative writing has been used here.- There is a contradiction about impacts, saying that there are "well established impacts", and yet then go on to say there is to date "no peer review literature" on this exact thing. As a scientist myself, I wonder how they could possibly think that anything with no research done into it could be well established.- I’ve already spoken on why aerial culling is inappropriate in kozi (check out the other boards if interested). You can’t see well enough so it would actually be against the COP to use it in this situation. If that's the way NSW parks would like to behave, creating there own COP to suit their own needs, well that would truly be astounding, but at this stage in the process I think nothing would surprise me.- It is never ok to put one animals suffering above an others. We will not sacrifice the welfare of some brumbies now, so that others might potentially maybe not die in a natural way later on. Animals die in nature, that’s how it works, survival of the fittest. You would not intervene if it was a mountain lion killing the horses, even though that is a brutal way to die, why should we intervene because it died another natural way. - I’m assuming they must have done an autopsy on the horses to know that it died of starvation due to no food, rather than long teeth (as is often seen in older horses), or an infection that occurred in a wound after a fight with another horse, or during birthing (perhaps this is why whatever ate it was so keen on the stomach, perhaps it was a mare that had a foal inside, that would have been a pretty lucky find for a fox/dingo/pig/wild dog) etc. - I'm also assuming considering they are claiming this with such authority that they caught and purged the stomachs of the brumbies that were seen near the dead horse to make sure they had actually eaten flesh, and not perhaps the undigested grass from the others stomach, or perhaps drinking water that had pooled inside the cavity of the dead horse or any other more likely scenario than a herbivore deciding to try out the carnivorous lifestyle for a day.- You can not use the current numbers to predict future numbers because the routes that are being surveyed have changed every year, and have you seen that standard error, I haven’t been able to do the sums because strangely there is some missing information that is essential for that, but the overlap on the error looks significant, although that means nothing, other than that I would have checked it before making wild claims about increasing population. If there is no significant difference between the means, we might find that there is actually no evidence at all that the population has changed over the past 10years. Imagine what that would do to the calls for aerial culling, hard to justify doing that to a stable population that has not yet been shown to have any actual impacts on the park... - 100 animals would not be a desirable outcome because we would have issues with inbreeding. I know this does not matter to those who do not care about the welfare of the animals at all, but this is a wild horse management plan. Looking after the welfare of the horses is a major part of the responsibility of this plan, and leaving 100 animals to breed up and become unhealthy is not responsible management at all. It has already been conceded that complete eradication is an unreasonable objective ( I have commented on this many times and will not go into it again, check the other boards if you are interested) and this is why we are calling for sustainable numbers to be left in the park. We are asking for responsible management, it astounds me that so many are opposed to this idea.Yet again admin, I am disappointed that you thought this was more important to discuss than calling for ideas on how to actually manage the population. This is just another attempt to justify your strange preference for terrorising horses with a helicoptor while shooting at them and hoping that you get a direct hit because you absolutely cannot find them to do a follow up if they slip off into the bush, and as for that foal under the tree that you didn't know what there, nevermind it wont stave, we now have irrefutable evidence that it can always live off its mothers flesh...
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Catherine Russell over 3 years ago
Thank you HVBA Vice President for your comments and all continued participation, particularly your suggestions about topics for discussion. This is a complex issue and we recognise that community opinions vary across a broad spectrum. These differing views make the review of the Kosciuszko Wild Horse Management Plan a challenging task, because it is important to get the balance right. This initial period of consultation to gather the differing views will help, along with the advice from the Independent Technical Reference Group, to review and develop a new draft Wild Horse Management Plan which will then be placed on public exhibition for further consultation next year. Your many contributions have been valuable and will be considered when reviewing and redrafting the plan and more information on ways that you or interested people can participate are outlined in Information Sheet #4 on this site. The management of the impacts of wild horses is at the heart of the review of the draft Wild Horse Management Plan and is available on this site and various forums have been opened and will continue to be open for up to 14 days which the seek views on environmental impacts (see page 24) , population growth, objectives of the plan, management methods (see page 23). Specifically each forum that has been opened has generated views on fertility control, trapping and removal, rehoming, establishing a sanctuary, fencing off environmentally sensitive areas, the objectives of the plan, environmental studies, population estimates, wild horse biology and reproduction as well as the consultation process. We hope that you continue to make valuable contributions to the review of the Wild Horse Management Plan as your involvement and views are greatly appreciated.
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Trampled over 3 years ago
Admin, HVPA has made claims about the change in population size and questioned the evidence about environmental impacts. So that the debate maintains a clear grasp of the facts, It would be appropriate for you to clarify the evidence around changes in population size, and impacts on Australia's natural heritage. Also, HVPA gives the opinion that horses are some sort of distinct breed. Are they a unique breed of horse or are they a mix of stock, with new horses introduced at different periods of time? Would introducing the occasional horse into a small population of 50 or 100 eliminate risks of inbreeding depression (and hence the need to maintain a larger population?)? Given the extent of hyperbole entering into the conversation, I think it is critical for ADMIN to remind people of the evidence in the set of documents that you have made available.
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GCNaturalHorsemanship over 3 years ago
Off topic somewhat but Brumbies are actually far less inbred than the modern thoroughbred...
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Natives_rule over 3 years ago
And your evidence is? Can you refer me to peer-reviewed research that supports your contention?
HVBA Vice President over 3 years ago
Trampled they are a distinct breed. The Brumby is a classified breed in Australia and can be entered into its own breed classes at shows just like an Australian Stock Horse, or a Welsh Pony or any other breed of horse. Go to abhr.com.au if you do not believe me. Almost all horse breeds are a mix of other breeds, they were just mixed at different times throughout history. Lets just pick a breed, say the Irish Sport Horse, go to their stud book and you will find this "The main composite breeds of the Irish Sport Horse are the Irish Draught Horse and the Thoroughbred. There is also a considerable amount of cross breeding with continental warmbloods breed in the Irish Sport Horse Studbook" - just because a breed is a composite of many other breeds does not mean it is not a distinct breed in itself. We are talking breeds here, not species.I also think it would be fabulous if this evidence was clarified, I have been calling for that since day dot, but still nothing. I have read the documents, they do not help. As for releasing horses back into the park, Are you serious? We should kill some horses now so we can then release more into the park later...I don't think introduction of horses to the park is one of the objectives of this management plan. In fact I am assuming it is an offence to release horses into the KNP due to their current "Feral" status? Why not just work out what a stable population would be that would have acceptable impact levels and aim for that. I also realise that calling for a population that small is intended to create an inbreeding problem so that can then be used as justification for complete eradication, nice try.
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Natives_rule over 3 years ago
Are "Brumbys' classified as a distinct breed other than on the Australian Brumby Horse Register? I noticed that the HVBA is also a member of this group. So, is it classified as a breed by Brumby support groups only?
Catherine Russell over 3 years ago
Thanks Trampled. We agree that it is important for readers to be aware of the evidence supporting the growth and impact of the brumby population. On this site the preliminary results from the draft aerial survey report are available under 'More Information' at https://engage.environment.nsw.gov.au/protectsnowies/news_feed/summary-kosciuszko-national-park-preliminary-results-from-draft-aerial-survey-reportThe biology of the wild horses is also detailed on page 13 of the Kosciuszko National Park Horse Management Plan. This can be found at http://www.environment.nsw.gov.au/resources/nature/KNPHorseManagementPlanFinal08.pdf
GCNaturalHorsemanship over 3 years ago
I disagree with a lot of this ridiculous story! Firstly horses will not eat dead animals, they just won't, and the lack of actual evidence to support the claims that the horses were eating the intestines of the dead horse makes the whole story very unbelievable. Its claimed that the horses were "up to their ears" eating the dead horse's intestines, yet no photos show that and the photos shown simply show the horses sniffing at the dead horse, with no blood on their muzzles at all to suggest that they were eating the intestines... Secondly it is stated that the horse were emaciated and starving with their bones sticking out.. looking at the photos I can see some pointy hips but no ribs showing at all- an emaciated or even slightly underweight horse will always have ribs showing as this is one of the first areas that shows weight loss. The horses in the photos look to be in ok condition and far from emaciated.. Then onto the article.. I question the authors knowledge of the success of the passive trapping programs- they claim it has been a complete failed program, this could not be further from the truth! I have re-homed many horses from the trapping programs and there is a huge community of people who have also re-homed Brumbies or hope to soon. There are many Brumby associations who work closely and successfully with park authorities to continually improve the trapping programs and are fully vested in the homing of these horses.The authors claim that only a small percentage are re-homed to private homes in NSW when in actual fact many of the passively trapped Brumbies are re-homed interstate through the Victorian Brumby Association and other equally successful and professionally run Brumby groups. And now onto aerial culling.. It might seem a good management strategy from the sole perspective of reducing numbers, however the process is inhumane and realistically not going to be as successful as supporters claim as their arguments for its effectiveness are based on the success of shooting horses in open country such as in the desert areas of Australia or overseas. In alpine areas which consist of heavily treed undulating land it would be near impossible even for a skilled marksman to get a kill shot on a galloping horse. If a horse is shot it will likely be injured and then disappear into the bush, making it then impossible to do a follow up ground shooting to put that horse down quickly, leaving it to suffer for days or weeks while it dies slowly of blood loss or infection depending on the wound.. Is this humane? If you think you can live with that then I ask have you considered the flow on affects of the many dead horses rotting on the ground after an aerial cull? This will foul the area much more than manure of which the authors complained about the smell... Foxes, feral cats, pigs etc will feed on the dead horses which may lead to a boom in their numbers, which will cause further damage to the environment. Injured horses may die near waterways which could lead to fouled water sources. I am all for controlling Brumby numbers at a sustainable level but it must be humane. Stories like this make supporters of aerial culling look like they are clutching at straws to justify what is a horrendous and inhumane proposal. If you would like to hear about the success of the passive trapping programs in more detail I am more than happy to share my very positive experiences.
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Natives_rule over 3 years ago
To claim horses won't eat dead animals is a point of view of yours, you haven't provided any evidence just that you don't believe it. That is fine, but I believe the two ecologists who were out hiking and saw this. However, this is just a small part of their overall article. I'm sure passive trapping works on individual horses but when it can only be done for very few animals it has little impact on numbers in the park and is not cost effective. Aerial shooting is more humane that poisoning feral pests which I personally don't agree with but I understand that it is a choice between native animals/environments and feral pests. Managing populations especially feral populations must be cost-effective and as humane as possible. I still think aerial culling should be considered.
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GCNaturalHorsemanship over 3 years ago
And they have no real evidence that what they claim they saw is true... I've worked with many Brumbies and spoken to many other people who have also, and its commonly discussed that Brumbies often take many weeks to try foods such as apples, carrots and sometimes even chaff and other manufactured horse feeds.. if they are so reluctant to try these foods which they can digest and receive nutrients from, and which look and smell very similar to their natural diet of grasses, then I find it extremely hard to believe that they would even attempt to eat a dead horse, let alone be "up to their ears" in a carcass eating it. I'm all for managing populations but I will never agree that aerial culling is humane, it simply isn't in Alpine environments, for the reasons I discussed above.
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Natives_rule over 3 years ago
As the ecologists pointed out themselves, they found it highly unusual they could get so close. I'm surprised that there is such antagonism and denial of an observation for a behaviour not seen before. Is this because it doesn't fit into your ideal of 'noble beasts'? Animals do things all the time that can surprise/shock people. For example chimps chase down and eat over monkeys which surprised a lot of people when first reported. Behavioural science often involves observations of species for many hours. it is quite possible this happens more regularly but is not observed. As for saying culling is inhumane I also think it is not humane to allow feral horse populations to get so large that they starve because of over-population or trapping and moving them long distances to slaughterhouses. And what about the welfare of the native species adversely affected by feral horses?
Mountain Man over 3 years ago
I am astounded that any educated person could get away with the sensationalism in this report as well as these comments. It is purely propaganda and a campaign for the Anti horse lobby. Its Absolutely astonishing and alarming that the ANU allowed you to present it!A few points and questions if you please: I have spent my life in the mountains as have generations of my family and as I have mentioned on other areas of this forum, all horse advocates do agree that the tiny fraction of the land mass which is true Alpine should indeed be kept horse free as well as some other areas. As far as I know those few horses that you encountered were the only brumbies in alpine area on the main range. It has been quite some time since horses were there.If the horses were in such a bad way, why did you not report it immediately to the local NPWS or some authorities so the brumbies could have been put out of their misery? Would that not have been the ethical and moral thing to do? So you left the area and went home, I hope you slept well that night. Is it not illegal to leave an injured animal on the road? but its ok when its natural selection and you have green friends?On your whole 2 day visit did you happen to see other emaciated starving brumbies or was it only the few near the Ramshead? Incidentally, the local horsemen offered to remove those horses before it snowed but were not allowed to by the park managers. Again animal welfare was neglected.With your vast knowledge of the issue at hand, why is it do you think that NPWS have only just started thinking about the management of brumbies in the past decade taking into consideration that the brumbies have been here for over 170 years? In the late 1980s the local horsemen were told by NPWS that the brumbies were insignificant and there was no horse plan of management warranted. What then was the big management secret prior to the new millennium? Why is this question not asked by the anti horse people who are supposedly looking for solutions? Obviously the management of brumbies must have worked well for over150 years! There was no talk of aerial culling ever before.Your article "summarises research on horse numbers in KNP". This is very interesting since NPWS have recently released a draft of the official count done only in May by supposedly the worlds best practise which say there are likely to be only 3890 brumbies in KNP with a possibility of up to 8000. This count which now also included Byadbo Wilderness (which has not been included in previous counts) also states that 305 clusters of horses were counted with an average of 6 horses in each cluster = only 1830 brumbies in the whole park. This makes your summary very dubious indeed. And thanks but I don’t need the double speak explanation again but please elaborate on your suggestions that horses will suffer and die if aerial culling is not implemented? Again, you have been wrong for the past 170 years.NPWS have acknowledged that since the 2003 fires the usual grazing areas in the Pilot wilderness (particularly on the fall to the Murray River) have scrubbed up and thickened up to the point that the bush areas have pushed the horses out as well as other grazing species out on to the open river flats. The numbers of horses have not increased at all as you surmise. The horses have all been concentrated on to the river flats and then these numbers are still extrapolated and presumed to be still in the dense areas which they are not. Why does your report not mention this? Did you get off the firetrail to go see for your self?
Sam Banks over 3 years ago
Thanks to the three writers for commenting on our article. I’ll respectfully make a couple of points in response.Our anecdote about the ‘cannibal’ horses came from watching these animals over a fairly long period (from a distance of about 15 metres at most, which is unusual in itself) on two successive days. The surviving animals were in very poor condition and were clearly feeding in plain sight on the digestive tract of the dead horse. I do agree that the photos don’t show this very well, and I probably wouldn’t make a good photojournalist. However, I would say that in my experience working in the field with a lot of animal species, it’s not uncommon for herbivores to eat meat when the opportunity arises and food is otherwise scarce. I could also write an article about carnivorous wallabies… In any case, whether or not readers choose to believe this particular report is not the important issue. Our article summarises research on horse numbers in Kosciuszko National Park and their environmental impacts (linking to the relevant original documents). These surveys have shown that horse numbers have increased dramatically over recent years and that the current horse management strategy has been unsuccessful in controlling their abundance. The comment by ‘GCNaturalHorsemanship’ claims a level of success for the passive trapping and re-homing program. This seems to confuse the means with the end. The ultimate aim of the horse management program is to reduce their numbers and the associated environmental impact. This should be the only measure of success of the program, and by this criterion it has failed spectacularly. This is unarguable. We need a far more effective horse control strategy than the current one.As for the ethics of horse culling, it’s obviously not a nice situation when wildlife management reaches the stage where shooting is the most viable option, but this happens with kangaroos and other animals around Australia. Horses are lovely animals and I understand why people don’t want them culled. However, there is a real trade-off against our native ecosystems and we all need to be realistic about the implications of how we decide to control horses from now on. In their current numbers, horses are starting to have serious impacts on parts of the park. To state the obvious, our Australian plants and animals are found nowhere else on Earth. Further, the high country is only a tiny fraction of the land mass of Australia and many of its plants and animals are found nowhere else in the country. We have a duty to protect this area, and its native plants and animals are a far more important part of our natural heritage than a population of feral horses. It is right that we discuss the ethics of how we implement a horse control program, but wrong that we knowingly let them continue to increase in number and degrade this special part of the country.Sam BanksOn another note, both cycling and horse riding are currently allowed on some management trails in the Pilot Wilderness. It’s a place worth seeing so I’d encourage people to take up the opportunity and experience it first-hand.
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Bio-Brumby over 3 years ago
Hi Sam, Dead Horse Gap is named for a reason. Why assume that because you have seen a dead horse, and maybe 3-4 more according to other recent reports at Dead Horse Gap, known for harsh winter conditions, that it means 180-1,130 annually are starving to death [using your figures] and therefore over the next 10 years b/w 1,800 - 11,300 will die of dehydration, starvation or poising”. On a side note, where did the poisoning prediction come from? Conversely, if your projections are correct, where are this year’s 180-1,130 dead carcasses, or nearly dead horses? To me, such a significant leap to assume so many dead or dying horses, from seeing 1-2 this year, is hard comprehend from a person representing a Science based University. furthermore, your figures [to me] prove the success of trapping as you say after 10 years of “high trapping, no cull” there will be 3,000 horses left in the national park, well under current numbers. Even using your average trapping, no cull figures, $7,400 will be in the park after 10 years – an increase of 25% [2.5% annually] which is minimal. That said, I am not looking for steady increases in horse numbers, but sustainable numbers. I support managing Brumby numbers in KNP, I also support a range of options being used, but reject aerial shooting. Regards, Bio-Brumby
Donna over 3 years ago
You say you observed these horses over a period of two days, at a relatively close distance, and yet there are no clear photos showing them actually EATING the carcass?? This is despite your claims of them having their heads in the abdominal cavity almost up to their ears?? As to the horses being emaciated, I strongly disagree. As with the cannibalism, there is no visual evidence to support this claim either. I vehemently disagree that the belief of the reader is not the important issue, rather it is integral to the reasoning behind publishing the story in the first place; I have no doubt this was well orchestrated, despite being poorly done, and that the intention was indeed to gain the belief of the reader in order to consequently gain increased support for aerial culling as the only method of control. This was not an exercise in altruism, nor an effort to seek help for these horses, but rather I believe a transparent grab for research funds and political alliances. Your failure to demonstrate a sound knowledge of the trapping program through your comments is disconcerting, one would hope you would apprise yourself of the relevant information as to its efficacy before publicly denigrating it. Your comment that it has failed spectacularly is insulting to the many groups working incredibly hard to re home these horses as they come out of the park; a program that has been successful in placing many in homes, with numbers increasing annually in many states, not only NSW. If your interest is truly in the welfare of the horses, I would hope you would advertise this success as much as the 'horror' of the alleged cannibalism, at the very least it would have lent some credibility to your article had you chosen a balanced view as opposed to a story and video akin to something from a Steven King novel.Any talk of ethics I find laughable, I have to be honest. Ethically, this story has no standing whatsoever. As an obviously over dramatised piece designed to engender support from the public for an act as murderous as aerial culling, neither ethics nor morality are a factor. With regard to the environmental impact, I believe you're aware there are no studies showing this to be definitively true, and little to no photographic evidence. The lack of research associated with their presence and any impacts is another reason they should not be simply wiped out of existence; as inhabitants of the area for over a century, we have no way of knowing their true place in the ecosystem without further study and should not arrogantly believe that removing them will have no negative effects. On the subject of aerial culling being used, I urge you to reconsider your belief it is the most humane method, or even the most appropriate for the area. This is demonstrated amply throughout the SOP on aerial culling feral horses.
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Natives_rule over 3 years ago
You're so strident and hysterical about someone else's opinion. You may not agree that is fine, but other people are also allowed to give opinions on this issue.
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Donna over 3 years ago
Strident and hysterical?? I do believe you're being intentionally antagonistic ;)
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Natives_rule over 3 years ago
Why? Because I supported an article and point of view that you don't?
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Donna over 3 years ago
Apparently I was being strident and hysterical because I supported a point of view different to yours, or rather disagreed with a view you supported, which is probably why you resorted to name calling I imagine.
Catherine Russell over 3 years ago
Thank you to everyone for your interest and comments on this widely publicised article. Most recently it attracted follow up coverage in the Sydney Morning Herald (link provided in the introduction) which details the reaction Peter Cochran whose video can be viewed under 'What do the wild horses mean to you?'.
Catherine Russell over 3 years ago
Just a reminder that every comment is valued for its content. This discussion forum allows everyone to have a say and it brings out many different ideas and viewpoints. In order to play a positive part in the discussion and to give your views maximum impact we encourage you to follow the etiquette guide below. https://engage.environment.nsw.gov.au/moderation
Natives_rule over 3 years ago
Thanks to Sam Banks and Don Driscoll for having the guts to publish their article on an emotive issue. The title obviously has shocked people, but the article was backed up with evidence and research. It seems from the comments so far that horse lovers are in shock/denial that animals will resort to eating their fellows if suffering from starvation. This is not that uncommon. I think it is disgraceful and inhumane that there is support for no control and allowing animals to die slowly and painfully from starvation. I certainly support the evidence and research that there are too many horses in the Snowy Mountains and that aerial shooting is necessary for control.
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Donna over 3 years ago
I'm not sure I'd call it guts myself, more like a massive error of judgement, but we'll agree to disagree. The title was designed to shock people, but the article failed miserably in terms of evidence and research to back it up I'm afraid. As one of the 'horse lovers' you've referred to, I for one am not in shock or denial at the idea that animals will resort to eating one another should the situation be so dire, rather I'm in shock at what I personally believe to be an audacious and blatantly exaggerated version of the truth being used to justify aerial culling of these horses.
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Natives_rule over 3 years ago
I totally disagree, there was plenty of evidence and research presented and readily available on the overpopulation of this feral species and the devastating effects it is having on the Snowy Mountain's environment. The title got people's attention sure, but the starvation/cannibalism was based on a two day observation. I don't see how you can say it was exaggerated? If you think it failed in evidence and research you present something then rather than emotions. I'm much more inclined to believe scientific evidence and opinion based on research/evidence rather than hysteria from a small minority. The mountain environment is fragile and unique and needs to be managed and conserved based on scientific evidence and research not emotions of a few who refuse to understand and acknowledge that this species is causing huge damage and destroying native species, especially alpine flora.
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HVBA Vice President over 3 years ago
two people watching from 15 meters away does not count as plenty of evidence...
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Natives_rule over 3 years ago
You are so hung up on the cannibalism at the start. The article summarises research on horse numbers and provided a personal observation at the beginning as to why the researchers became interested in looking at this. Yes the title and first paragraph provide a bit of sensation and was attention grabbing but the article does not then use the horse cannibalism as it's only evidence that the Alps are overpopulated and current control methods are not working and that feral horses are causing irreparable damage. There is plenty of evidence and research on the effects of feral horses in the Snowy Mountains:http://parkweb.vic.gov.au/__data/assets/pdf_file/0009/574128/Information-Sheet-2-Environmental-Impact-of-Wild-Horses.pdfhttp://parkweb.vic.gov.au/__data/assets/pdf_file/0009/574146/Background-Paper-1-Wild-horse-ecology-and-environmental-impacts.pdfhttp://books.google.com.au/books?id=XXjAAgAAQBAJ&pg=PA200&dq=effects+of+horses+on+alpine+ecosystems&hl=en&sa=X&ei=SoMjVMLRFs-B8gWQ84CgAw&ved=0CCcQ6AEwAA#v=onepage&q=effects%20of%20horses%20on%20alpine%20ecosystems&f=falseHorses are also listed as a "Potentially Threatening Process" in The Victorian Flora and Fauna Guarantee 1998.
Donna over 3 years ago
I would dearly love to see this evidence of the devastating effects on the Snowy's you speak of?? Once again I reiterate, there is no such evidence, no studies, little to no research. Two days they observed this behaviour they say, but alas we see no actual photos proving it? We see a few horses standing over the body of another, some with the muzzles close to indicate sniffing, but no chewing or gnawing or even a speck of blood. Again, I ask you to provide information on the species destroyed by the horses presence, either flora or fauna. Emotions are always considered to be an unnecessary inconvenience to those who wish to ignore them, however they are part and parcel of this discussion and always will be I believe. Gunning horses down from the air is an emotive subject, as is the refusal to adequately manage our brumby populations with compassion.
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Natives_rule over 3 years ago
You are so hung up on the cannibalism at the start. The article summarises research on horse numbers and provided a personal observation at the beginning as to why the researchers became interested in looking at this. Yes the title and first paragraph provide a bit of sensation and was attention grabbing but the article does not then use the horse cannibalism as it's only evidence that the Alps are overpopulated and current control methods are not working and that feral horses are causing irreparable damage. There is plenty of evidence and research on the effects of feral horses in the Snowy Mountains:http://parkweb.vic.gov.au/__data/assets/pdf_file/0009/574128/Information-Sheet-2-Environmental-Impact-of-Wild-Horses.pdfhttp://parkweb.vic.gov.au/__data/assets/pdf_file/0009/574146/Background-Paper-1-Wild-horse-ecology-and-environmental-impacts.pdfhttp://books.google.com.au/books?id=XXjAAgAAQBAJ&pg=PA200&dq=effects+of+horses+on+alpine+ecosystems&hl=en&sa=X&ei=SoMjVMLRFs-B8gWQ84CgAw&ved=0CCcQ6AEwAA#v=onepage&q=effects%20of%20horses%20on%20alpine%20ecosystems&f=falseHorses are also listed as a "Potentially Threatening Process" in The Victorian Flora and Fauna Guarantee 1998.
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Donna over 3 years ago
Oh, I guess I should have said credible, unbiased evidence and or research.
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Natives_rule over 3 years ago
Seriously? The only bias and lack of credibility is coming from you. As I have said previously I support scientific research and evidence on this issue.
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Catherine Russell over 3 years ago
Just a reminder that every comment is valued for its content. This discussion forum allows everyone to have a say and it brings out many different ideas and viewpoints. In order to play a positive part in the discussion and to give your views maximum impact we encourage you to follow the etiquette guide below. https://engage.environment.nsw.gov.au/moderation
GrantH over 3 years ago
Natives_Rule I agree there is significant scientific credit due for the article. You need to read the rest of the article and disregard the emotive parts about the "cannibalism" and the questionable emaciated state of horses (I agree they look to be of healthy weight in photos).It is a fact that they are feral animals and do not belong in that environment. It is a fact that the current population is causing environmental damage. And you can infer an argument that in years of low fodder growth the overpopulation could indeed lead to starvation. You could also infer an exponential growth in population unless there is predator species up the food chain, natural death (starving, dehydration, poisoning through desperately eating toxic plants) or culling management.
GrantH over 3 years ago
I'm going to buck the trend a little bit here. And say that I support some notions of the article. Obviously its a little sensationalised using the term "cannibalism", I think scavenging would have been a more fitting term.Onto the rest of the story about how to "manage" the brumby population, incorporating managing their health and managing the environment to have limited detrimental impact. Now, no matter how much you like horses, you cant deny that the population is increasing, and you also cant deny the horse do significant environmental destruction compared to the native animals that inhabit the area.A lot of horse lovers do not acknowledge just how bad for the environment horses are. The fauna of Australia for thousands of years prior to European invasion had no hard hoofed animals, no animals where such a large amount of weight was distributed in such a small area of a hoof. Australia's animals don't cause the compaction of soil that horses and other introduced species to. Horse hooves tear the soil away from creek beds at a fair greater rate than native animals. Once you get beyond the destruction they cause to the environment they cause through just walking we can discuss the damage they cause by spreading weeds. Sure the other furry critters can carry weed seeds stuck to their fur. But horses have the added distribution method of manure. Native fauna have quite specific and limited diets, subsequently a lot of them wont eat weeds and their seeds because they taste bad or are actually toxic to them. Horses have had generations of eating all sorts of weeds when they are hungry. So are more likely to eat weeds, and subsequently spread weeds. Horses can also cover a large range and spread these weeds a long way. And as a lot people can attest, they often defecate on the edges of water sources... a great environment for weeds to propagate, and distribute seeds in the waterways.Realistically if you want the ecosystem to return to its natural species composition a complete removal of all introduced plants and animals is required. i.e. a 100% cull of feral horses, dogs, pigs and then a massive arduous task of managing weeds (that's the horses spread). Realistically in our modern world... no one will spend that time and money, and its too emotional to do a complete cull when we have "Folklaw" and sentiment to address.My personal opinion is that the feral horse numbers are too high, and if the map in the article is correct they have very large free range. I'd support an immediate "humane" cull, I don't know what level to cull to, something conservative initially. I'd also suggest securely fencing an area and conducting a scientific study on carrying capacity of the area, and identify a heads/ha rate that is sustainable. Then reassess if there has been environmental repair or further degradation over a multi year analysis.I'd like to suggest a gradual reduction of area accessible to horses through a methodical fencing off of blocks of conservation areas.
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HVBA Vice President over 3 years ago
Thanks for providing some ideas for practical solutions, its refreshing to see in this debate that has strangely become a do nothing v aerial culling debate rather than what most people actually want which is ideas like this that fall somewhere in the middle ground. I think the problem with fencing is usually cost, but this is only due to my own research rather than any actual costing from NSWP. Maybe it would be useful to put together a list of management ideas and their costings so everyone could see what the options are?
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GrantH over 3 years ago
I understand fencing is very costly, and obviously not a desired preference for managing one "issue".But often master plans can incorporate something like this to meet objectives on several fronts. So if there is the chance of erecting or repairing pre-existing inadequate fences to meet multiple objectives for some "blocks" of land it could be utilised for feral animal management too.In SE Qld there is little hesitation to erect fences and gates to lock out 4wd and dirt bike recreationists, so I think parks do fund fencing if they deem there is enough benefit to it.
Donna over 3 years ago
So many superlatives, so little time!! This is possibly the most ridiculous, laughable attempt to ply the public with over dramatised unfounded hysteria I have ever witnessed and I find it appalling that this forum is being used to validate it in any way. Equally astounding is that the authors, as 'scientists' are participating in this outlandish scare tactic, supported by the Australian National University no less! Their perceived superior knowledge is no greater than the average uni student, yet as is the intent, I'm sure there will be many who will believe their story because as 'educated' men, they must know what they're talking about, right? Well let's break down a few points and see shall we?“The first inkling we had that all was not well was our observation that these animals were emaciated, with ribs and bony hips protruding, skin sagging” - and yet, I note I'm not the only person to observe the fact that the horses in the video appeared to be anything but emaciated. Not at any time when watching the video frame by frame and pausing on full screen to enable closer view, were any ribs showing or hips protruding on the horses shown. This is but the beginning of the sensationalism that is to be the mainstay of the authors throughout their tragic tale!“As far as we are aware, this behaviour has never been documented before. The noble brumbies of the silver screen have been reduced to starving cannibals in Kosciuszko National Park. What has gone wrong?” - This last line is a transparent attempt to instigate panic in the reader, to convey a sense of urgency for action – action which invariably and might I add conveniently, leads to aerial culling of course."A few steps closer and we could see a fourth horse lying dead on the ground. Two of the horses had their snouts inside its gaping abdominal cavity, nibbling at what little remained of its digestive tract" - All supposedly 'documented', though somehow there are no photos proving what they say to be true, no visual evidence in the video, no traces of blood on the faces of the horses at all, despite being in a carcass up to their ears!“After carefully considering the range of options for managing horses, the committee decided against a strategy of culling by aerial shooting, choosing instead to trap horses using lures and mustering. This was despite aerial shooting being cost-effective, humane, safe, and the only feasible method in inaccessible areas” - Clearly the authors are being creative in their overzealous endorsement of aerial culling as the only feasible method in inaccessible areas – should they choose to assess the entirety of the information available, they’d find that in the case of KNP it is barely possible let alone feasible. It is very easy to use excerpts of information to support an opinion and in doing so only present one set of ‘facts’ so to speak. For example, this little tidbit was taken from the Standard Operating Procedure for Aerial Culling of Feral Horses – “Humaneness of aerial shooting as a control technique depends on the skill and judgement of both the shooter and the pilot. If properly done, it can be a humane method of destroying feral horses. On the other hand, if done inexpertly, shooting can result in wounding that can cause considerable pain and suffering”. And this – “In areas of heavy cover (eg vegetated creek lines, woodlands and forest), effectiveness is limited since horses might be concealed and difficult to locate from the air” or this – “Aerial shooting should not be done if the nature of the terrain reduces accuracy resulting in too many wounding shots and prevents the humane and prompt despatch of wounded animals” Oh and of course there's THIS - "A feral horse should only be shot at when:? It can be clearly seen and recognised? It is within the effective range of the firearm and ammunition being used? a humane kill is probableIf in doubt, do NOT shoot"So, in reality, the success of aerial culling is dependent on many variables, not all of which are immediately apparent to the reader based on the information provided in the article. Now to possibly the most incredible and blatantly biased part of the article. Although intended to shock and alarm the reader as well as inferring those wanting horses to remain in the park lack ethics and care little about animal welfare, the section of the story entitled “How many horses suffer?” does little more than spout exorbitant figures and conjecture. Of course I'm aware the authors intention was to overwhelm the reader with numbers and support their case for using aerial culling, however I feel they've failed miserably in this regard and in fact achieved the opposite; the figures quoted in support of their claim that it’s ‘inhumane’ to allow the horses to live in the park because so many can/will die if aerial culling is not used achieves no more than to demonstrate that if only trapping alone were used, the numbers are manageable with the help of mother nature. I'm still in shock at the lengths or perhaps that should be lows, being reached by those committed to eradicating our brumbies after reading this article and watching the ludicrous video that plays like a 'C' grade horror film, but mostly I'm disappointed - disappointed with the decision of NPWS to endorse the contents of it by making it a topic for discussion, disappointed that there are likely to be many who will buy this tripe based only on the authors 'credentials', disappointed that this consultation process is being conducted with obvious bias toward the anti brumby contributors and is increasingly so when the authors of this article are past contributors, yet clearly display gaps in their knowledge of the situation with their comments both here and in the article and video. One last point...“On a recent cycle trip into the Pilot Wildnerness” - I'm curious as to why cycling is allowed in the Pilot Wilderness at all, but mostly I’d like to know if the authors were perhaps utilising one of those pesky ‘damaging’ trails created by the crazy feral horses?!
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Catherine Russell over 3 years ago
Thank you Donna for your comments. We recognise that this is one perspective in the discussion about wild horse management in the Snowy Mountains. The decision to post it – like the Guardian Article recently – is to hear the feedback to such a report so that we can incorporate it into Wild Horse Management Review. Links to widely publicised online stories can be found under 'More Information' and when widely publicised articles related to wild horse management arise we will seek to open up a forum for discussion.
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Donna over 3 years ago
I'm sorry, I don't understand how feedback on a story such as this can be incorporated into the wild horse management review?? The intent of the authors is blatantly obvious; instil fear, panic and horror in the reader, along with the ultimate belief that aerial culling these horses 'for their own benefit' is the only humane solution. The credibility of the material supplied should have been questioned extensively before deciding to use it as a topic for discussion on this forum, as the decision to do so infers to contributors that NPWS endorse the content, which is questionable to say the least. The article hardly qualifies as tabloid trash, let alone a genuine 'perspective' on the issue and is embarrassing to our country as a whole; what type of society are we, to have such 'qualified and educated' men perpetuating this type of rumour & scaremongering, portraying us as negligent because we allow our wild horses to starve to the point they turn cannibal?! Regardless of the fact that the majority of reader comments I've seen on the article are calling it a hoax, set up, lie etc, there will no doubt be those who believe, and even one person is too many.
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Catherine Russell over 3 years ago
Thanks Donna, to outline how this story, like the perspectives presented in various videos and widely publicised media articles can be incorporated into the wild horse management review, here are a few points that the article raised which align to elements of the current wild horse management plan: - Provides links to the latest research reports and studies - Highlights the knowledge gaps in understanding impacts on the natural environment- Presents a map of wild horse impacts to the National Park - Presents a perspective on management methods NPWS does not endorse or defend the The Conversation article but presents it as a perspective in the discussion about the management of wild horses in the National Park and this perspective is one which has been widely publicised. The feedback presented here refuting, disputing and endorsing elements of the article will be collated against the aspects of the Wild Horse Management Plan to which the comments relate and this community feedback will help shape the new draft of the Wild Horse Management Plan which will be placed on public exhibition next year for further consultation. More information on the consultation process is available on this site in Information Sheet #4 http://www.environment.nsw.gov.au/resources/protectsnowies/140550Snowies4.pdf
Sharlone over 3 years ago
I cannot believe the things that get reported on, any body who reads the article & watches the video would have to be stupid to believe that the brumbies were eating the deceased horse. Do not forget that a brumby is a horse & horses are herbivores which means that they eat only plants!! It is quite obvious that a wild dog / dingo / fox would have been eating the deceased & that the other brumbies were sniffing it to find out what may have happened & how old the scent of the predator/s are to establish their own safety. As per GCNaturalHorsemanship, the photos do not show the living brumbies with any blood on their muzzles (they were sniffing) & no evidence of them eating the intestines. Aerial culling should not be considered as an option to reduce the numbers. It is inhumane especially in the heavily treed mountain areas of Kosciuszko National Park. The stress from being chased by noisy foreign object, the pain of being shot possibly numerous times & roaming for days before dying is not humane. Have people forgotten the inhumane treatment of the brumbies at Guy Fawkes National Park?? A horse undergoing that kind of stress is terrified, possibly in pain, at risk of breaking bones & if there is a foal involved what if it becomes separated from its mother??I'm sure all of the environmentalists that visit Kosciuszko National Park will appreciate the stench of rotting horse meat over the sweet grassy smell of horse manure, & jump for joy when the wild dog / dingo /fox population increases hearing their howls in the wind will send shivers of ease up their spine. I'm sure they would love to enjoy a supper of fresh broad toothed rat.
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Catherine Russell over 3 years ago
Thank you Sharlone for your participation. The humane management of wild horses is central to the Wild Horse Management Plan and anecdotal stories of introduced or native animals in distress in the National Park are always of interest and concern to NPWS. The wellbeing of horses at Dead Horse Gap was raised in an earlier forum by a participant and NPWS followed up and responded to these concerns.
appifish over 3 years ago
Removed by moderator - the comment contained bad language. Please refer to the moderation rules.