Feral horse aerial culling trial could help save the Snowies

Media Release |

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.

Background information:

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.

Help protect NSW!

Our expert team has written a list of policy asks detailing exactly what the next NSW government needs to do to stamp out some of the worst invasive species impacts across the state. But they will only become a reality if every key political candidate at the 2023 NSW state election hears about it from you!

Dear National Deer Management Coordinator,

Please accept this as a submission to the National Feral Deer Action Plan.

[Your personalised message will appear here] 

I am very concerned about the spread of deer and am pleased that a national plan has finally been developed. Without urgent action, funding and commitment from all levels of government it is clear that feral deer will continue to spread and damage our environment.

The feral deer population in Australia is growing rapidly and spreading across the country, damaging our natural environment, causing havoc for farmers and foresters and threatening public safety. Unlike much of the world where deer are native, our plants and wildlife haven’t evolved to deal with these heavy hard hooved animals with a voracious appetite.
With no natural predators and an ability to adapt to almost all environments, they could occupy almost all of Australia unless stopped. Despite this, state and territory governments have been slow to respond and in Victoria and Tasmania they are still protected by law for the enjoyment of hunters.

This plan should be adopted by all governments but must also be underpinned by dedicated funding and clear responsibilities. A plan without funding or accountability is a plan that will fail and Australia cannot afford for this to fail.

In order to prevent the spread of feral deer and reduce their impact on our native wildlife, ecosystems and agriculture, I ask that the following recommendations be adopted for the final National Feral Deer Action Plan:

1. All federal, state and territory governments should adopt the National Feral Deer Action Plan and declare feral deer to be a priority pest animal species.

2. All federal, state and territory governments should commit to:

  • Contain deer to the existing large population areas.
  • Reduce and eradicate smaller and isolated populations.
  • Protect important environmental assets such as world and national heritage areas.
  • Develop and fund regional plans and strategies to manage deer populations which involve land managers across all tenures.

3. In order to drive action and the success of this plan, there should be dedicated Commonwealth funding and support for:

  • A permanent national feral deer coordinator position.
  • A permanent federal feral deer action committee with representatives from the commonwealth and state and territory governments and the environmental and agricultural sectors.
  • An ongoing public education campaign on feral deer.
  • A network of regional feral deer coordinators to drive local action across tenures.

4. The expected outcomes for the plan need to be more ambitious, with clear interim targets including:

  • Within one year, all States and Territories should have in place arrangements to implement the National Feral Deer Action Plan, including allocating dedicated funding for implementation.
  • Within one year, feral deer management plans should be developed for key environmental assets of national significance, including the Tasmanian Wilderness World Heritage Area, the Greater Blue Mountains, the Australian Alps, the Gondwana Rainforests and the Wet Tropics of Queensland.
  • Within five years coordinated landscape scale management should be in place where land owners, land managers, government and community are demonstrably working together.

5. A national feral deer containment map with three zones should be adopted. It should be more ambitious than the zone map in the current draft plan and there should be greater clarity in the naming of the zones. Improvements that should be adopted include:

  • Renaming the zones to better reflect the management intention to ‘Containment Zone 1’ (the current large population zone), ‘Containment Buffer Zone 2’ (the current buffer zone) and ‘Eradication and prevention Zone 3’ (the current small isolated population zone).
  • The NSW northern rivers area should be in the eradication and prevention zone as there are few feral deer currently in this region and eradicating isolated populations and preventing spread into this area is still possible.
  • The whole of South Australia should be in the eradication and prevention zone as eradication is the goal of the SA Government.
  • The Tasmanian region in the containment zone should be smaller to reflect greater ambition and potential for eradication of deer populations.
  • In eastern Victoria areas such as Wilson’s Promontory, Westernport islands and the Mornington Peninsula should be in the eradication and prevention zone.

6. There should be consistent laws and regulations across all states and territories that:

  • Recognise feral deer as a pest animal and treat them as such.
  • Establish a clear responsibility for all landholders and managers to be involved in feral deer control programs.
  • Set clear penalties to stop the wilful or negligent release of feral deer.
  • Prevent new deer farms in areas where no feral deer are present and phase out all deer farms in the eradication and prevention zone.
  • Enable enforcement of compliance, including on government land.

I support the follow principles being adopted in the final National Feral Deer Action Plan:

  • Feral deer are a pest and should be treated as such on all tenures, except on approved deer farms.
  • Federal, state and territory governments have a responsibility to fund the outcomes under this plan.
  • All land managers in areas where feral deer are present have a responsibility to be involved in feral deer control programs.
  • The focus of management efforts should be on eradication of isolated, satellite populations, protection of key environmental assets currently impacted and stopping the spread to new regions.
  • Feral deer control should be undertaken humanely, safely and professionally according to agreed protocols and all tools which meet this criteria should be adopted, including aerial control.
  • Funding for coordination, regional planning and community engagement is necessary for effective feral deer management.
  • Ongoing management and follow up control efforts are required to achieve long lasting results.
  • Rules and regulations should be consistent across jurisdictions and land tenures.
  • Recreational hunting is not an effective strategy for feral deer control and should not be relied upon.
[Your name]
[Your email address]
[Your suburb], [Your state]