Community clashes over feral horses management

By Melissa Coade

Wednesday April 14, 2021

feral horses
Parks Victoria will accept feedback to the Draft Feral Horse Action Plan 2021 until Friday 23 April. (Image: Adobe/fotografci2019)

A Victorian action plan to cull feral horses has drawn the ire of animal rights activists, who have called for a halt to a planned cull in the Barmah region this year. 

A group of concerned Victorians, known as the Brumby Action Group (BAG), have decried ground and aerial shooting plans to eliminate more than 400 feral horses in the Barmah region.

They also want the state government to introduce legislation that will ensure their long-term protection. 

“Brumbies are part of Australia’s cultural and social heritage and ought be retained in heritage National Parks in sustainable managed mobs, preferably with Legislation for their long term protection,” a statement released by BAG said.

The government has a four-year plan in train targeting over 400 feral horses in the Barmah area, citing concerns for damage to moira grasses.

Another draft plan targets 500 feral horses in Victoria’s Alpine Park and Bogong High Plains and is currently open for consultation. According to Parks Victoria, environmental damage to the Alpine region (sustained in part from recent bushfires) means that more needs to be done to support its recovery.

Control methods for feral horse management outlined by the proposed plan include trapping and rehoming brumbies; ground-shooting using professional shooters; and, in exceptional circumstances, aerial shooting. Parks Victoria says that fertility control of the horses is not viable due to the size of their populations.

Only skilled shooters would be involved in feral horse culls, the government said, and performed to the highest standards ‘that minimise animal suffering’.

BAG, which is currently focused on the Barmah horse population, argue that is a small one and claim that brumbies have coexisted with other Australian wildlife for over two centuries.

The group also cites a report that suggests local grasses have not been adversely impacted by the feral horse population:

“The environmental water authority report a season’s outstanding crop of moira grasses, removing all justification [for the planned cull].”

Public consultation for the feral horse management plan in the Barmah National Park closed in May 2019 with 2,394 submissions received. Parks Victoria said that the final plan, which was published last February, was ‘informed by the public’s feedback’.

For the proposed feral horse management plan in the Alpine region, BAG says it doubts the control measures will be humane.

“There is no doubt, the shooting of 530 brumbies in the Alps if it proceeds will not be kind or pretty, it has every possibility of being cruel and inhumane,” BAG said. 

In contrast, the government notes the grazing pressures of introduced hard-hoofed animals on the Australian landscape has damaged not only plant species but, in the Alpine region specifically, collapsed stream banks and fouled water quality. With water from Victoria’s Apline National Parks catchment worth an estimated $110 million, the environmental threat also has a financial impact. 

Parks Victoria also produced aerial photographs at a snowplain wetland showing vegetation thriving in exclusion plots contrasted against degraded ground caused by pugging (hoof prints) from feral horses. 

“Intact native vegetation is critically important to filter and slowly release water, and stabilise soil and slopes. 

“Damage from hard hooves kills native vegetation leading to erosion and unstable streambanks, which leads to poor water quality,” Parks Victoria said. 

The animal rights group says it will rally against the government’s Barmah action plan later in April to coincide with a planned muster in Barmah. They also hope to present Victorian environment minister Lily D’Ambrosio with a petition of 166,000 signatures from people opposing the feral horse cull. 

Parks Victoria will accept feedback to the Alpine region’s Draft Feral Horse Action Plan 2021 until Friday 23 April.

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