What do you think about how wild horses are removed from the National Park?

by Catherine Russell, almost 4 years ago
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The only management approach to wild horses in the National Park is to remove them and where possible rehome them with the help of organisations like BrumbiesRUS.

Local and experienced horse handlers work with NPWS to remove wild horses from the National Park. Here Matt steps through the process of physically removing wild horses from the National Parks. 


  • skifree over 4 years ago
    Do we do this with pigs, deer, rabbits, goats, foxes, cats, hares and any other feral I have missed? All these animals do a lot of damage the environment and directly and indirectly impact on native animals and flora and water courses and the like. I have seen 1st hand this damage over a numbers of years and do not accept that any of this is acceptable. Horses are just the same as these animals except bigger, So I do not see any need for special treatment. The removal of all feral animals should be as cost and time efficient and effective a possible and if that involves the sort of proven numbers control operations that have been used for buffalo, camels, goats and horses in NT and SA so be it.Capture and re-house of horses is a method but is it as timely, complete and as cost efficient as other methods? Maybe it should it be part of a total program of several methods with the target of total eradication.
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    • Catherine Russell over 4 years ago
      Thank you Skifree. NPWS also undertakes management efforts for a range of other introduced species in the National Park. It is accepted that there will always be wild horses within the National Park. In terms of wild horse management, which is only by removal and where possible rehoming, this approach is undertaken to minimise the impact that wild horses have on the protected environment.
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      • skifree over 4 years ago
        "It is accepted that there will always be wild horses "Why is it accepted? I do not accept it just as I do not accept there should be pigs, deer, cattle, sheep, foxes, goats or cats in the Park. There is no logical reason to accept this. The only reason horses and other introduced species remain in the Park would be lack of resources, but that is a separate problem. Lack of resources should not be a barrier to doing everything possible to achieve eradication. It may not be achieved but the best possible should be done.As is pointed out below there are thousands of horses living well cared for lives across Australia and there is no need for more to be living in the lands set aside for the native flora, fauna and environment. Especially given these lands are very small as a percentage of the total landscape we have terraformed to suit our selves and our pets.
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        • Catherine Russell over 4 years ago
          Thanks Skifree. By ‘always being horses in the park’, it was meant that unlike managing an introduced species on an offshore island there are no natural barriers or fenced boundaries in Kosciuszko and wild horses move freely from adjoining land tenures like foxes, deer or rabbits do. Regardless of resourcing or any limitations on control approach it would be very difficult if not impossible to achieve full or permanent removal of wild horses from Kosciuszko because of reinvasion and possible reintroductions. Within the current 2008 KNP Wild Horse plan its objective is to exclude wild horses from certain areas within the park and reduce the impact of wild horses on the parks values.
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          • skifree over 4 years ago
            Well you will never achieve anything if you do not have the target of eradication to start with.If you are gunna do something do it to the best possible. Shoot for the stars and keep shooting.We have managed to eradicate/exterminate more species in Australia than any other country. It cannot be too hard with something the size of a horse, deer, pig, goat.Actually I do know with goats and pigs it is very very hard, but it is not impossible.
          • horses4discourses over 4 years ago
            Is part of the acceptance of the horses to do with their iconic status? It's certainly seems something of a mis-conception among those who advocate for the retention of the brumby for 'heritage' reasons; if you could counter their opposition with the fact that you don't want to remove ALL the brumbies, just reduce numbers, then a large part of their (very emotive and subjective) argument disappears.
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            • HVBA Vice President over 4 years ago
              Actually many of us that are advocating for the protection of the horses do agree with management and a reduction in numbers. We would like a target for removal just as much as those advocating for their complete destruction. We agree with Admin that complete removal is unrealistic in this case, here is some research to back that up http://www.jstor.org/discover/10.2307/3782799?uid=3737536&uid=2&uid=4&sid=21104609427663 but we do not want to see horse numbers getting so out of control that they become a road hazard, destroy precious ecosystems or run out of food and starve. What we really care about is the humaness of the program. We believe that means the horses have the right to a life free from fear and pain, and the right to a death free of fear and pain. Ariel Culling does not fit with this idea of humaness as the horses flee the helicopter in fear before they are shot, and as we have seen with the Guy Fawkes cull, sometimes they die a painful death over a number of days once they have been shot, because in rough terrain follow up is difficult. The current trapping program is so well run by the Parks guys that the horses we receive for rehoming are wonderfully calm and curious of people, not scared like most people expect. They trust quickly and train easily. Unfortunately until the numbers of the most recent count are released, there is no way to assess the effectiveness of the current program. Once we know the numbers, we will be able to work out how many horses would need to be removed each year to affect population growth, and then we can talk about how the current program could be improved to meet those needs. Those of us who advocate for the protection of the horses want to provide constructive input into management options so that the important issues around the protection of the park do not come at the expense of the horses welfare. We care about the horses and the park, and cannot be silenced by a placating "don't worry we won't shoot them... all".
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              • horses4discourses over 4 years ago
                But what is humane about the current situation, where they are starving to death, because the hands of NPWS are tied? Anecdotal evidence shows that they are dying, slowly and painfully, of starvation. And yet - if that's what nature dictates, does that make it ok? And if a slow and painful death from starvation is ok, then how does a potentially short, sharp death from a rifle shot in a helicopter compare, even on the off-chance that it's bungled, and the death is somewhat slower? I'm not saying I agree or disagree (though I do think arguments around the brumbies and the eco-systems having 'adapted' is a load of rot), I just don't think the issues are simple. Personally, I think sterilisation is surely the most effective and humane solution. And I would LOVE to re-home a brumby, but I do not have the room or the money to be able to afford to keep it.
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                • HVBA Vice President over 4 years ago
                  That's my point exactly, management is required, it just needs to be humane. I agree, sterilisation needs to be looked at as an option, but I believe a multifaceted approach would be best, some passive trapping, some sterilisation etc, depending on the area, the impact the horses are having and the urgency that they need to be reduced in those areas. We also need to think about the effect that a large number of horse carcasses left lying on the mountains after an aerial cull would have on the environment, particularly the wild dog, pig and fox populations. These are incredibly complex issues, with no quick and easy fix. We have an opportunity here for all sides to work together and get the balance right, I hope we can do it!
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                  • nicole over 4 years ago
                    Thanks HVBA Vice President. You're right to point out that there are issues beyond the immediatey obvious that need to be considered. This is why conversations such as this are so important - we want to make sure that it's as broad a discussion as possible.
                  • Mbidgee over 4 years ago
                    I think that sterilisation is not a viable method of control of a large poulation in wild country. Even if it was possible to use a firearm to hit a horse with a 'dart' and prevent it breeding for a year, how many horses could be treated? If 5,000 horses, (or about half of the current estimate of about 10,000) could be treated in the first year, the remainder could still breed, and probably replace those that die (Breeding rates are greater than mortality, that's why the population is increasing). The big problem is that after all this work, there are still 10,000 horses grazing and trampling the environment, and the key impact has not been reduced, even though a lot of money has been spent. The following year, if 5,000 horses are treated again, the large population remains. Even if the 'dart' could sterilise a horse for life, in the second year half the horses would be getting a second shot, as it would be impossible to tell which ones had been previosly treated. That would be a big waste of funding, and a reduction in efficiency of the program. At the end of the second year, the population would only have had a very minor reduction, and the damage to the environment continued.Better to use a lethal shot and kill the horses, and I believe it can be done humanely, or at least as humanely as happens in any abbatoir that kills the meat we eat.
              • Bush lover over 4 years ago
                You mention the Guy Fawkes cull as an example of aerial culling gone wrong. It was claimed that dozens of horses were not killed by the shooting and died in agony over an extended period. Shooting was then outlawed and trapping used instead.An acquaintance of mine was a first hand observer of those events.NPWS used to have a contractor to capture the horses and dispose of them. He was very cruel to the horses, and many would come out maimed or seriously injured and in pain. (I would add that ten years later, this is still a problem with horses trapped in KNP: http://www.horsedeals.com.au/index.php?p=event&e=11696-Concerns-for-wild-horses )NPWS decided to use aerial shooting to cull the horses. In one day they shot about 600 horses if I remember correctly. This is far more than could ever be removed by trapping.The procedure is very thorough. It uses experienced marksmen with high quality rifles suited to this task. Each horse is shot in the head five times to make sure it is dead.On the day they did the shooting, the contractor happened to be down in the valley and saw it all. He could see his lucrative job was disappearing down the gurgler.He did discover one horse which was not quite dead. Seeing an opportunity, he then blew this up out of all proportion, saying that there were dozens of horses left in agony. The animal cruelty lobby took all this at face value, and it became a major media story and a political issue.He got his trapping contract back.
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                • Donna over 4 years ago
                  Of course I'm sure you're aware though Bush Lover, we can't simply take your 'anecdotal' word for it now, can we?? There are many others who were also witnesses to the now infamous mass slaughter of Guy Fawkes HERITAGE Brumbies, those who saw the many injured, dying horses, yet when we hear their tales we're told it's no more than hearsay and unsubstantiated rubbish. And yes, I am using their correct title of Heritage horses when speaking of these brumbies in particular; a rather unfavourable, unintended result of the 'report' into the cull, and one I find particularly interesting to say the least.When was the last time you were a participant of an aerial cull?? Have you spoken to these "experienced marksmen"?? Do you honestly expect even the most dim of people to believe that any person no matter how expertly skilled, could possible shoot a fast moving animal in clustered terrain FIVE TIMES IN THE HEAD from a helicopter?!! You claim that 600 horses were shot in Guy Fawkes and that is a number far more than trapping could ever achieve, yet I'm fairly certain the number removed recently was around the same mark. This hardly supports claims it lacks efficiency.Aerial culling is a cruel, ineffective, short term method, NOT a solution or form of management.
              • badarmes over 4 years ago
                That's why I think people trying to manage this have it "ass about face". I believe you need to promote the Brumby and educate people in the horse world about their qualities. In my experiences, very little trickles from the top dawn - there needs to be a ground swell UP. My first pony (some 40 years ago) was a Brumby caught in the Kosciusko. She was one of 6 removed that my father broke in and sold on - ALL as children's ponies. I cannot tell you what a great childhood I had with that little mare. She was safe, sure footed and cunning!!! I realise this is "personal" and that is not what these forums are really about. But I DO believe that a LOT of horses can be safely removed, educated and rehomed successfully. And what if this is a costly exercise? I see it as a win/win situation. Any method of removal will be costly (and most not so great in the public eye).
  • adwallach over 4 years ago
    Compassionate Conservation is a growing movement that brings ethics into conservation practices and considers both the values of conserving species and the lives of animals we are affecting. Intervening in ecological processes (by killing horses for example) produces outcomes that we are usually unable to predict. More often then not, our efforts to benefit ecosystems by killing animals produces more harm than good. This is why Compassionate Conservation has adopted the medical oath to "first do no harm". Sometimes it is better to do nothing. The horses are now an integral part of the ecology. Allowing natural processes to regulate their densities is likely to produce better outcomes both for the horses and for the ecosystems they are embedded in. There is no evidence that killing horses benefits anyone. Then why do it?
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    • icefest over 4 years ago
      There is evidence showing that eradicating feral horses does have a significant benefit.Feral horses are damaging alpine wetlands, eradicating them would increase the chance of rare alpine fauna and flora surviving in these areas. Feral horses exist on several continents. The species like the endangered Mountain Pygmy Possum only live in the minuscule alpine area of Australia. These species will benefit from the eradication of feral horses in the alpine area.While natural process can regulate some species, there are none in Australia as these feral horses are not native. In other countries they are regulated by wolves or (as in the US) shot or otherwise extracted.The greatest harm with the eradication of these animals is the rotting corpses lying around in the park (which will decompose within a year).Killing these feral animals does a huge amount of more good than harm.
    • Lachlan over 4 years ago
      Horses are killing alpine ecosystems, and certainly don't subscribe to any 'do no harm' doctrine. They are neither a natural nor sustainable part of the alpine ecosystem. Sure, it is an ecological process, but not all ecological processes are positive and must be maintained; an ecological process is simply the interaction between organisms. To continue with your 'embedded' analogy: if you have a glass shard embedded in your arm, you don't leave to there to fester. You get a probe and tweezers to remove it yourself. If that fails, you go to the doctor to get it professionally removed. But never ignore the problem...
    • Bush lover over 4 years ago
      Adwallach, it seems that your organisation is proposing something like the so-called "free market" for all forms of conservation. In other words, let it all work itself out.If we do nothing now, in 10 years, there will be somewhere around 200,000 horses in Kosciusko NP. At that stage or maybe before, there will not be enough food for all the horses. All grass will have been eaten and the plains will be just dirt. Not only the horses will die, but also many native animals that also eat grass. Because of the lack of grass, rain will wash away the topsoil, creating erosion gullies, and clogging up the streams and eventually the rivers. Due to poor water quality, all the animals that live in the creeks are likely to die. Trees will die when their roots are exposed.With most of the fertile topsoil gone, grasses and other plants will not be able to re-establish themselves. With no grass, no animals will be able to live there because of lack of food.While this is happening, animals frantic for food will be leaving the park, invading surrounding properties to find something to eat. Farmers depend on the grass in their fields for their own animals to eat. Two things might happen: Firstly, the farmers will not be restricted from shooting the horses, and they will. These are not trained hunters with specialist rifles that kill at first shot, but ordinary people. There is a good chance that the horses will not be killed by the first shot, and it may not even be realised that a horse is still alive. The horses may linger for days before eventually dying.The second possibility is that the horses will eat a lot of the grass and the farmer's own animals will not have enough to eat. Eventually all the grass on his fields will be gone, and the horses will move to the next property. This will impact the farmer's income, and may result in him having to shoot his own animals to save them suffering from starvation.Is this really a picture you are advocating? Wouldn't a clean cull by experienced marksmen which killed the horses in less than 8 seconds be much more preferable than a slow lingering death for horses and native animals, and economic loss to farmers in the area?
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      • Donna over 4 years ago
        Wow. Scaremongering much?? "In 10 years there will be somewhere around 200,00 horses" Okay, please then explain, based on that theory, how on earth the entire park is not entirely overrun by horses today, given they've been there for so many decades?! Are we to believe the horses have only been breeding since they've been 'managed' for almost the last decade, that prior to then they practised abstinence in aide of self preservation? How arrogant, to base such an assumption on no more than an outdated, highly questionable report on supposed numbers in 2009, to believe so strongly in the possibility of the population exploding to the extent you describe! According to your tale of gloom and doom above Bush Lover, there should be no more to see in the NP than bare dirt, dead animals of all kinds, exposed tree roots and clogged streams. I wonder then, what's left to protect today and what's left for the horses to damage??
    • Jindygal over 4 years ago
      A 'do no harm' approach to a big bullies means they remain free to damage defenceless individuals, in this case, horses can destroy the environment and replace the fauna and flora that have evolved there for millions of years. When we talk heritage, lets talk aboriginal heritage, living in harmony with a sustainable environment, that will survive intact for then next 500 or 5000 years. Lets 'do no harm' to the original indigenous environment. That mean removing all the horses.
  • Themba over 4 years ago
    I totally agree with passive trapping and rehoming via welfare organisations. It has already been proving overseas to be detrimental to the environment where wild horses have been removed and programs are now in place to reintroduce wild horse to the areas where they were removed. It has been proven that wild horses play a significant role in the environment that have been existing in for years and as they were removed the environment actually declined. As I say, this has been proven overseas!The wild horses are a very easy target for examples of why there is damage to the environment in the parks but, we have to also remember that there are wild cattle, goats, pigs, deer etc in the parks that do much more damage than a horse. Cattle tracks can easily look like horse tracks, pigs do much more damage to the environment than any horse.However, if the decision is made to cull the wild horses rather than passively trap and rehome them then I would prefer to see them shot in the park and not trucked to become dog food. For a wild animal this would be extremely stressful and cruel.
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  • adwallach over 4 years ago
    There are other possible approaches. I suggest that we should accept horses, and all other introduced species, as part of the Australian ecosystem. There are several reasons this has merit:(1) The horse is an endangered species in its native range. If all 'feral' horses were to be removed, the world would be left only with the small herd reintroduced to Mongolia. These 'feral' populations are keeping the horse as a wild species safe from extinction.(2) We have a very bad record in attempting to control populations of wildlife. At best our efforts have no effect, at worst our efforts backfire. The eradication of cats from Macquarie Island is such an example.(3) Horses may be taking the place of extinct Australian megafauna.(4) The world is changing, and species have to move to survive. Humans and our livestock now comprise 97% of animal biomass. We should not begrudge the remaining 3% of wild animals to need to adjust their ranges.(5) Dingoes may act to limit the populations of wild horses. There is some evidence that they limit donkey populations, and they certainly do limit cats, foxes, rabbits, kangaroos and goats. Protecting dingoes has a much better chance of benefiting all parties. So - instead of killing horses, National Parks could stop using 1080.
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    • Catherine Russell over 4 years ago
      Thank you Adwallach. In Australia we have the largest population of wild horses in the world, estimated at more than 400 000 (Dawson et al. 2006), scattered across a vast area that includes parts of the Northern Territory, western and northern Queensland, the arid zone of South Australia, and the northern rangelands of Western Australia.The only management approach to wild horses in the Kosciuszko National Park is to remove them, and where possible, rehome them with the help of organisations like BrumbiesRUS and importantly removal of all wild horses from the National Park is not the intention of these efforts. Removal efforts are undertaken to minimise the impacts that wild horse populations have on the protected environment of the National Park. While outside the remit of NPWS, the World Heritage site of Macquarie Island was publicly declared pest free in April this year after a seven year management effort. http://www.abc.net.au/news/2014-04-07/macquarie-island-declared-pest-free-after-eradication-program/5373336
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      • Buckrunner over 4 years ago
        The horses in the KNP are a huge link to where this country came from and it's heritage. The horses don't breed at the rates suggested and are doing no damage like they say. It's fine to ski in these precious areas so the horses should stay
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        • horses4discourses over 4 years ago
          But this country has been around for a lot longer than just white settlement. What about the much longer traditions of Aboriginal heritage and culture that have been displaced by the brumbies?
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          • nicole over 4 years ago
            Hi Horses4discourses, we've been interested to read the discussion on this page about whether the heritage/iconic status of the brumbies is appropriate or justified. We believe it's an important part of the conversation. Thanks for taking part.
        • Bush lover over 4 years ago
          Buckrunner, could you please provide references for your claim that the horses are not breeding at the estimated rates and that there is no damage from them? Have reputable studies been done to show this? Without references to the studies, this is just your opinion which is contrary to observations by many, many people over a lot of years.
    • icefest over 4 years ago
      You suggest we should accept all introduced species into the Australian ecosystem. Does this include cane toads, feral cats (voracious killers that they are), foxes and the pacific crown of thorns in the Great Barrier Reef?Now, as for the points you made: (1) Yes, the wild horse is an endangered species, with the Tarpan (Equus ferus ferus) extinct and the Przewalski's horse (Equus ferus przewalskii) almost so. Australian feral horses are neither of these two species. They are feral domestic horses (Equus ferus caballus) and not true wild horses. There are 40,815 feral mustangs (also Equus ferus caballus) in the USA*. Feral horses in the alpine national park do nothing to keep the wild species "safe from extinction"; being neither wild nor the only feral population. (2) As Admin said: The eradication of cats, rats, rabbits and goats is complete on macquarie Island. Horses, being large herding animals are far easier. You can just shoot them from a helicopter. Humans have 'controlled' wildlife for centuries. Wolves, auerochs, dodos; have all been eradicated in some parts of the world. You premise that eradication/controlling is impossible is false.(3) How is this unsubstantiated claim a valid reason? Pure conjecture, with plenty of evidence showing they cause damage to the ecosystem. (4) Apart from the 97% claim being bogus^ there is not a single reason to be perpetuating an equestrian monoculture is a good choice. Were your statement to be true, then you should be advocating for the maximum amount of species saved. (5)You say that dingoes might decrease the amount of wild horses and then say we should get more dingoes instead of shooting horses. Do you think dingos only kill horses?My opinion: Horses damage the fragile alpine ecosystem. They trample bogs, spread large amounts of faeces around, harbor infectious bacteria and compete with native herbivores for forage. Australian feral horses have no place in the Australian ecosystem, and statements to the contrary are pure conjecture. Aerial culling is humane and incredibly cheaper than trapping. I think NPWS should not spend any money on trapping but instead focus on culling, but give private individuals, who wish to "save the nags", permission for as much private trapping as they wish. ^ termites + krill + ants make up more than 3% http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Biomass_(ecology)#Global_biomass *As counted on july 13, 2014 by the U.S. DEPARTMENT OF THE INTERIOR - BUREAU OF LAND MANAGEMENT
  • Jindygal over 4 years ago
    The current system of removing horses some of which are found new homes, the rest killed after a series of truck journeys, is feel-good, expensive and ineffective. Only some horses in accessible areas can be rounded by this method anyway. The solution has a to be 'all of park', so aerial shooting is the only option.
  • Lachlan over 4 years ago
    Feral Horses do a phenomenal amount of damage to any native Australian ecosystems- the existing biota has not evolved to cope with large hoofed animals (marsupial megafauna had, and has, a much lighter impact upon the terrain)- that's why cow and sheep paddocks are devoid of native vegetation, and Australia is now facing difficulties with the replacement of Paddock Trees. This damage is especially pronounced in Alpine ecosystems. Aerial culling would undoubtedly be the most simple way to protect these endangered communities. However, if this was rejected as inhumane (which it is not if properly conducted), perhaps sterile male horses could be released into the herd, similar to the attempts to control Cane Toads? I don't completely understand the behaviour of feral horse herds, but in many species dominant males prevent subordinate males from reproducing. Hence, if sterile dominant males were introduced into the herds, it would decrease the replacement rate of the herds, and diminish their numbers to a point where NPWS could control the behaviour of the remaining animals. That way less horses are harmed (and their 'heritage values' are preserved), and ecological damage is eventually largely abated.
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    • icefest over 4 years ago
      The truth of the matter is that aerial culling is the most humane. Even the RSPCA support it. Currently all horses that are caught and not rehomed go to the knackery, at close to 1000 per horse that's a waste of money and an immensely stressful period for the horse. Less than half of the currently caught horses got rehomed.
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      • Lachlan over 4 years ago
        I'm not contesting that aerial culling can be humane if properly conducted. It is approved as a method of controlling many animals in Australia, and can be quite successful for it. Plus, I'd imaging that it would be quite quick to undertake in Alpine ecosystems where horses do the most damage, as they can be quite open. Only problem is, a large group disapprove of it being applied to horses. The Snowies can't afford another period under the current removal system, which allows the horses to multiply massively. So I was attempting to suggest a compromise that might please both groups. A compromise has double the weight if, as you say, the current system is flawed from an ethical as well as environmental perspective.
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        • icefest over 4 years ago
          A very good point and I agree that it would be an acceptable method of population control. I don't think it will be fast enough to reduce the population within the next few years, which is becoming amore and more pressing need.
  • The longer we wait... over 4 years ago
    I think this is important and it allows people to adopt these horses which I'm all for, but I feel like it's almost for show or something because it's not addressing the problem of more and more horses. So I'm glad it's being done -- mostly -- it's not always a good outcome for the horses either becoming a meat animal or dying from the stress of the experience -- but it seems to me more of a diversion and a desperate act than actual management of the issue. So if it's not working for the environment and it's not working for the horses and it's not even working for the brumby sanctuaries that get either ugly un-home-able horses or traumatised horses AND it costs a bomb.... AND it must be risky work... I don't know. I like the thought of this and I admire the people who do it and I hope it's helping, but I'm not sold on this method of horse management.
  • Trampled over 4 years ago
    Removing horses using the current methods have failed to protect our National Park. At best, a few hundreds are removed each year, but the natural rate of increase is probably adding more than 1000 each year. Rounding up horses and shipping them out has had its chance, and it's failed. The only feasible option, which was obvious in the 2008 horse management plan, is to reinstate aerial shooting. It is humane and cost-effective. The current approach that sees escalating numbers of horses, is ineffective, and inhumane, as increasing numbers of horses face food shortages (food shortages have been evidence since before 2005 http://www.australianalps.environment.gov.au/publications/research-reports/pubs/feral-horses.pdf).