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‘Together, we can save these horses’: outrage at planned brumby cull

“Together, we can save these horses” is the rallying call of Australian campaigners opposed to the mass slaughter of wild horses.

The Australian Brumby Alliance (ABA) had taken Parks Victoria to court over the latter’s plans to remove the wild horses from the Bogong High Plains, in the Alpine National Park, Victoria, and reduce the population of the eastern Alps.

On 8 May, the Federal Court of Australia found in Parks Victoria’s favour, allowing the authority to start shooting.

“Small-team operations will be deployed into high-conservation priority locations where ground-based professional shooters will use thermal imaging and noise suppressors to cull free-ranging feral horses, under strict animal welfare protocols with expert equine veterinary oversight,” said a Parks Victoria statement after the court judgement. “This will complement the current bushfire recovery works that have removed more than 1,300 deer from fire-impacted areas in eastern Victoria.”

The authority said the fact it has had to curtail “the majority of the alpine feral horse management operation” during legal proceedings, as well as the effect of last summer’s major fires, means “significant loss of threatened native wildlife and ecosystems”, adding: “Remaining unburnt areas are being severely overgrazed and damaged by large numbers of feral horses.”

But the ABA told H&H it believes a sustainable brumby population can be retained.

“To this end, the ABA commissioned a scientific study, which began November 2019, with the University of Southern Queensland on the ‘environmental impact of feral horses in the Australian Alps’ to identify a safe minimum number of sustainable wild horse populations in Bogong High Plains and Eastern Alps,” president Jill Pickering said.

“The New South Wales Wild Horse Heritage Act 2018 sets out how the brumby heritage value will be protected while ensuring other park environmental values are maintained. The Victorian government went in the opposite direction and approved Parks Victoria’s Alpine management plan to eradicate all wild horses living on Bogong High Plains, and significantly reduce the brumby populations in the Eastern Alps, then monitor and keep removing brumbies until no damage remained.”

Ms Pickering said the alliance believes much of the damage blamed on brumbies is caused by deer, of which some one million live in the same area as the brumbies, or pigs.

Picture by Colleen O’Brien

When news of the proposed cull emerged, social media “erupted”, Ms Pickering said, adding that an Alpine cattle-owner filed for an injunction to temporarily halt ground shooting, which was due to be heard this week, in light of which Parks Victoria has deferred shooting until the end of May.

The ABA, and many others, believes that brumbies deserve heritage protection.

“The ABA is so convinced that the retention of sustainable brumby populations, living where they have for 150 to 200 years, alongside native species in low densities, will provide positive impacts for native species, and because the ancestors of this unique living heritage enabled early settlers to survive, we commissioned a six-year study to identify safe brumby density levels where native species are not disadvantaged,” Ms Pickering said.

“The ABA and most Australians support the retention of sustainable populations. But Parks Victoria, with government backing, refuses to listen, and will again start ground shooting from the last hour of this month, May 2020.

“We the ABA and people of Australia feel powerless to stop this tragedy and will become the generation that exterminated Australia’s living wild horse (brumby) heritage.”

A petition has ben set up against the cull, and supporters are urged to write to the Australian government, while others have been staging protest rallies. Sign the petition here >>

“I’m amazed by the incredible show of support for the brumbies from people from all walks of life, from the high country, Victoria, the nation and across the globe,” an ABA spokesman said.

“We have done well to keep the shooters at bay and the only way forward will be with a united front and a common purpose – together we can save these horses.”

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Parks Victoria CEO Matthew Jackson said the authority has a “legal and moral obligation to protect the native species at risk of extinction from the impacts of feral horses and other pest animals”.

“The conservation of Alpine National Park is key to this,” he said. “Native alpine plants and animals that are found nowhere else on the planet are not equipped to deal with the weight, grazing, hard hooves or trampling of feral horses.

“The 2019-20 bushfires wiped out very large areas of habitat for our unique native species. The areas less affected by fire now provide the only habitat for threatened native species and are being severely damaged by feral horses, whose numbers have significantly increased in the past five years.

“By removing large invasive herbivores from the sensitive landscape, Parks Victoria is providing a greater chance of survival for native species. Feral horse management is one component of an integrated approach to reducing the impacts of introduced animals in the Alpine National Park.

“All feral horse management operations are thoroughly planned, carried out by highly qualified and experienced professionals under strict conditions, ensuring the operations are safe, effective, humane and in accordance with all relevant legislation, codes of practice and standard operating procedures.”

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