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Damage done to precious alpine environments by feral horses ‘cannot be overstated’, Senate inquiry told

A Senate committee is being urged to take a stronger stance on reducing wild horse numbers in the Australian Alps.

Fifteen witnesses were called to speak in Canberra’s Parliament House today, during the first public hearing of a Senate inquiry.

Most spoke about the damage feral horses had caused to native flora and fauna.

“The scale of ecological destruction cannot be overstated,” Nature Conservation Council representative Clancy Barnard told the inquiry.

“We have a choice to make — do we protect native species or allow an introduced feral animal to lead to their destruction?”

The first public hearing into the impacts and management of feral horses in the Australian Alps kicked off today.(ABC News: Greg Nelson)

The Senate inquiry aims to find the best approach to reduce the population of feral horses, and will examine whether laws implemented by state and territory governments are adequate.

Discussions today often centred on how the species were managed in NSW, where aerial culling is not allowed.

The Australian Veterinary Association cited its support for aerial and ground shooting as a control method, given the large numbers of feral horses in Australia’s landscape.

“Techniques which involved mustering, transportation and prolonged handling of the animals contribute significantly to the stress of those animals,” Veterinary Conservation and Biology special interest group executive committee member Michael Banyard said.

“The advantages of aerial culling are significant to improve the welfare outcomes of the horses because they shorten the lead-up time for the final event of their death.”

This was questioned by Senator Ross Cadell, who asked if shooting a wild horse from a helicopter was humane.

“If I take my horse to one of your members, are they going to take it out the back and chase it in a chopper or are they going to euthanasia it with barbiturates?” he said.

Support for heritage

The impact of feral horses on Indigenous cultural heritage was also explored.

Indigenous Ambassador of the Invasive Species Council Richard Swain told the inquiry feral horses should not be protected.

“It’s 2023 and for cultural reasons we’re protecting a feral horse in a national park,” he said.

“It hurts me, it saddens me and it undoes what we could have been — a nation that had some connection to country.”

Wiradjuri man and ANU academic James Blackwell agreed.

“The damage done here affects not just the landscape, but the identity and spirit of every Indigenous person in the region,” he told the hearing.

a man stands in a blazer wearing a white shirt

Richard Swain gave evidence before the public hearing in Canberra.(ABC News: David Sciasci)

Pro-brumby groups also gave evidence, highlighting the heritage value of the species.

“The Australian brumby is the horse of Australia’s history,”  Marilyn Nuske, from the Brumby Action Group, said.

“Ground and aerial culling is unable to satisfy standard operating procedures.

“Horses gallop, they get frightened, they will bolt. It is an unsuitable method to manage wild living horses.”

Kosciuszko cull

The New South Wales government’s aim is to reduce the number of wild horses in Kosciuszko from an estimated 18,000 to 3,000 by 2027 by using rehoming, trapping and ground shooting.

Today’s public hearing revealed that more than 2,000 feral horses had been removed from Kosciuszko National Park under the current management plan.

It also heard that national park staff had faced abuse from brumby advocates as part of this process.

“There has been an external review and it found that our staff are prioritising welfare at every stage,” NSW Environment and Heritage representative Atticus Fleming said.

The Senate committee has until September 29 to report its findings.


https://www.abc.net.au/news/2023-08-23/wild-horses-senate-inquiry/102754926 Damage done to precious alpine environments by feral horses ‘cannot be overstated’, Senate inquiry told

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