The Invasive Species Council is calling on the NSW government to commit to an aerial culling trial of feral horses in the Snowy Mountains. This comes in response to a new government review into the implementation of the feral horse management plan for Kosciuszko National Park.
The review, conducted by the Secretary of the Department of Planning and Environment, suggests that a reassessment of aerial shooting may be needed because removal rates under current methods may not be high enough to reduce the park’s increasing feral horse population.
The review also found that, in implementing feral horse control, animal welfare outcomes are prioritised, are better than predicted, meet all legislative requirements and demonstrate no evidence of non-kill shots having been taken.
‘Every year that the NSW government fails to meet targets to reduce the population, the job gets harder and more feral horses have to be culled to protect our wildlife,’ said Invasive Species Council acting conservation director Jack Gough.
‘We are calling on the NSW government to take heed of the recommendations in their own review and commit to a limited trial of aerial shooting of feral horses, overseen by independent animal welfare experts such as the RSPCA.
‘We are concerned the arbitrary prohibition on aerial shooting of feral horses in Kosciuszko National Park will stop the government meeting their own commitments to reduce the population and protect the park.
‘The public mood has shifted on this issue. In recent years, Australians have become better-informed about the damage feral horses are doing to our wildlife and fragile alpine wetlands and streams. These alpine areas are not made to cope with thousands of heavy, hard-hoofed feral horses trampling and trashing sensitive environments.
‘We have a choice to make between feral horses or a thriving national park – we can’t have both. There is broad acceptance of the sad reality that urgent and humane measures are necessary to cull the horses or they will destroy the Snowies and the native wildlife that call the mountains home.
‘When it comes to managing the out-of-control feral horse population, we need all available tools in the tool box. That includes aerial shooting by highly trained professionals using protocols reviewed by independent animal welfare experts. The government’s own animal welfare review highlights that this is a humane, safe and effective way to reduce feral horse number.’
‘If we care about our unique alpine regions and preserving our native plants and animals, we need urgent and effective action now,’ said Mr Gough.
The NSW government’s Kosciuszko National Park Wild Horse Heritage Plan 2021 sets a target for the reduction of feral horses in the park to 3,000 by 2027. To achieve this, the plan permits a range of control measures, including ground shooting, but rules out the use of aerial shooting.
In regards to aerial shooting the recently released government review found that:
- ‘Aerial shooting can have low negative welfare outcomes (i.e. good welfare outcomes) when conducted in accordance with best practice. The risk identified in The Plan (loss of social licence to control horses) still holds and should continue to be considered. However, given the potential for welfare outcomes to be improved with the method, the feasibility and public acceptability should continue to be assessed, particularly in reviews of the plan.’
- ‘Alternative techniques with good welfare outcomes (such as aerial shooting) may need to be considered if sufficient numbers are not removed with current techniques.’
- Recommendation: ‘There is continued monitoring if the removals are sufficient to impact the ecology of the area, and that alternative control methods be considered if sufficient numbers are not being removed.’
- ‘The removal of horses, and therefore the welfare outcomes, are only justified if sufficient numbers are removed to have a positive effect on remaining species.’
The results of the NSW government’s most recent survey of feral horse populations in Kosciuszko National Park, using best practice scientific methods, were released last week and found their numbers have increased by over 30% in just two years – from an estimated 14,380 in Spring 2020 to 18,814 in Spring 2022.
The data released by the NSW government also noted that 525 feral horses were removed from Kosciuszko National Park between July and December 2022, an increase of 191 on the 334 removed in the first half of 2022 (for a total removal of 859 in 2022). This falls far short of the levels required just to stop the population from increasing further, let alone meet the management plan’s aim of reducing the overall number of feral horses in the national park.