Feral horses

Feral horse numbers are expanding across the Australian Alps, in Kosciuszko National Park, parts of Queensland, the Northern Territory and Western Australia.

Australia has up to 400,000 feral horses, the world’s largest wild population. As big, hard-hoofed animals, they cause immense ecological damage, particularly in the fragile high country of the Australian Alps including Alpine and Kosciuszko national parks.

Feral horse populations have established themselves in at least 10 conservation areas across NSW, including Australia’s iconic Kosciuszko National Park and world heritage-listed areas of the Blue Mountains, Barrington Tops, Guy Fawkes and Oxley Wild Rivers national parks. Kosciuszko National Park is particularly under pressure from NSW’s largest feral horse population, putting this fragile and unique alpine landscape at risk.

The ACT Government has an effective policy to remove horses that move from NSW into the ACT. There are no feral horses in ACT conservation areas.

The Victorian Government is tackling feral horse numbers using a combination of humane control methods.  In Alpine National Park where a 2019 survey estimated there were about 5,000 horses, a science-based feral horse action plan was adopted in 2021 that aims to significantly reduce the entire population and remove isolated population in areas such as Bogong High Plains. In Barmah National Park, home to the world’s largest river red gum forests and wetlands, a strategic action plan has been adopted to significantly reduce the horse population by 2023 and ultimately remove the entire population.

Kosciuszko National Park

In 2018, the NSW Government abandoned a science-based feral horse management plan that had been developed after extensive consultation, instead enacting the Kosciuszko Wild Horse Heritage Act. The Act prioritises the protection of large numbers of horses over the protection of threatened native species.

An investigation by the Invasive Species Council revealed in January 2019 that the feral horse trapping program had come to a complete standstill. Our investigation found that no feral horses had been removed from the southern half of Kosciuszko National Park since April 2016, or the northern half since August 2017. Horse populations had been allowed to expand and grow, rising by an average of 18% a year.

In 2020 there were an estimated 14,000 feral horses in Kosciuszko. After trapping recommenced, 99 horses were removed in 2019/20 and 787 in 2020/21 — a mere 5% of the estimated population. This trapping program was extremely costly and inhumane – most horses were trucked long distances, with the majority ending up in slaughterhouses. It was also ineffective and fell well short of stabilising the population, let alone reducing it.

Effective control of feral horses in protected areas, like other feral animals, means equipping park managers with as many control options as possible to reduce feral animal numbers. An integrated culling program, using both aerial and ground shooting, has been assessed to be one of the most effective, humane solutions for removing large numbers of horses, provided it is undertaken under strict animal welfare protocols with close involvement of the RSPCA.

That is why we have pushed so hard for an effective, humane, adaptive approach to feral horse management.

Without an effective control program, the feral horse population in Kosciuszko National Park will continue to grow, meaning more feral horses will need to be culled in the future as environmental damage escalates.

Early, effective control reduces the number of horses removed in the long-run and avoids animal suffering and starvation from over-population. Without an effective control program, more native animals will suffer as horses destroy their habitats.

Add your voice now and help us take 50,000 signatures to Federal Environment Minister Tanya Plibersek calling for the Australian government to protect Kosciuszko National Park from feral horses today

We became so alarmed at the lack of feral horse management in Kosciuszko National Park that we helped form a campaign called Reclaim Kosci, which aims to overturn NSW’s environmentally backwards ‘Wild Horse Heritage Act’.

Reclaim Kosci

The Reclaim Kosci team is hosted by our organisation and supported by a huge number of passionate, committed volunteers. We help drive and support their key activities.

The campaign has drawn a huge amount of support over a very short period of time.

There is now a massive groundswell of people who want the NSW Government to act and stop the increasing impacts of feral horses on one of Australia’s most loved national parks

A key element of the campaign has been about talking with people from all walks of life about the damage feral horses are inflicting on Kosciuszko National Park. All those conversations and meetings have paid off. On Thursday, 24 November 2021, then NSW environment minister Matt Kean adopted a feral horse plan for Kosciuszko National Park.

The final plan promises a significant reduction in feral horses, but leaves one third of the park overrun by this damaging feral animal. The plan will reduce the horse population by 80% – from around 14,000 to 3000, over just five years. Compared to the slow removal rates over the past 20 years, this, if achieved, would be a significant improvement for horse control in the Kosciuszko.

However, the plan is still a long way from what’s needed to solve Kosciuszko’s horse crisis. In drawing up the plan Minister Kean was hamstrung by the Wild Horse Heritage Act, a draconian piece of legislation that requires the protection of feral horses in Kosciuszko National Park.

The retention of feral horses in one third of Kosciuszko is deeply problematic. It locks in damage to the Byadbo and Pilot wilderness areas in the south and protects an ongoing horse population within and adjacent to the Jagungal Wilderness Area.

Wetlands such as the vast Currango peat wetlands in the north and critical habitat of threatened species such as the northern corroboree frog, stocky galaxias and the lovable broad-toothed mouse will all suffer as the damaging impacts of hard-hooves is locked in for the plan’s duration.

Although this plan has been finalised, we are not taking our eyes off this issue until feral horses are removed to the point that Kosciuszko’s wildlife and alpine wilderness is protected and recovering from the impacts of feral horses.

Our Reclaim Kosci campaign will continue as we focus on:

  • Holding the NSW Government to account on its commitments to reduce feral horse numbers in the park.
  • Closely monitoring the rollout of management plan to ensure the NSW National Parks and Wildlife Service follows through with the plan’s new tools to manage feral horses.
  • Continuing to educate Australians and politicians on the effect of feral horses on Australia’s natural environment.
  • Pushing for the repeal of the Kosciuszko Wild Horse Heritage Act, which prioritises the protection of feral horses over our native species.

Our Reclaim Kosci campaign still needs your support. You can help by donating today.

We will not give up until Kosciuszko is protected from feral horse impacts.

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]