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.
Kosciuszko National Park is under pressure from NSW’s largest feral horse population. In Kosciuszko National Park the NSW Government has abandoned a science-based management plan developed following extensive consultation. Instead it has enacted legislation that protects large numbers of horses and limits control options.
We joined with other concerned organisations to establish a campaign called Reclaim Kosci to overturn this environmentally backwards move. We continue to host the key activities of Reclaim Kosci.
The ACT Government has an effective policy to remove horses that move from NSW into the ACT. In 2018, the Victorian government approved a science-based plan to reduce horse numbers in the adjoining Alpine National Park.
The Victorian Government is also tackling feral horse numbers in Barmah National Park, home to the world’s largest river red gum forests and wetlands, and will significantly reduce the horse population by 2023 using a combination of humane control methods.
During the time of the legend of the Man from Snowy River, it is believed there were only ever 200 wild horses in the Australian Alps. Feral horses now number an estimated 25,000 and this number has been exponentially increasing by about 23% each year (in good seasons).
Without action to reduce numbers, successive favourable seasons would see the population double about every four years. Over time, horse density, range and damage will escalate, making future control more difficult and expensive.
Feral horses trample and eat large amounts of alpine and sub-alpine plants, foul wetlands, erode streams, spread weeds, create a vast network of tracks and threaten the safety of motorists. Because of the short summer growing season, damaged and depleted alpine plants recover very slowly.
There is only one practical and humane solution. A large-scale horse removal program in the Australian Alps is essential to prevent continued exponential population growth and to save sensitive alpine habitats.
Feral horses populations have established themselves in about 10 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.
Feeble attempts at feral horse control have allowed these populations to continue to expand and grow.
In Kosciuszko National Park feral horse numbers continue to rise by 23% per year despite trapping and removal attempts.
An investigation by the Invasive Species Council revealed in January 2019 that the trapping program had come to a complete standstill.
The investigation found that no feral horses have been removed from the southern half of Kosciuszko National Park since April 2016, or the northern half since August 2017.
When trapping recommenced in Spring 2019 only 99 horses were removed from the park.
The current NSW trapping program (operating since 2003) is extremely costly, inhumane (most horses are trucked long distances to slaughterhouses) and ineffective. It has been unable to even stabilise the population, let alone reduce it.
Feral horse numbers continue to grow and move into new areas, including the highly sensive Mt Kosciuszko alpine summit area.
An aerial culling program is the most effective humane solution for removing large numbers of horses in the Australian Alps in NSW and Victoria, provided it is undertaken under strict animal welfare protocols with close involvement of the RSPCA.
An effective control program brings animal welfare benefits that should not be ignored. There will be more suffering in the future when much larger numbers of feral horses have to be killed and when they starve because of over-population.
We must be equally concerned about the welfare of the native species adversely affected by feral horses.
When the NSW Government made the disastrous decision to protect feral horses in Kosciuszko National Park rather than reducing their numbers we acted quickly, joining forces with several other environment groups to form Reclaim Kosci. It is now a broader consortium representing everybody concerned about the impacts of feral horses on the park.