1 March 2024

As aerial shooting begins in Kosciuszko, locals fear for the future of heritage brumby herds

| Edwina Mason
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Old photo of men on horses

George Day signalling to his companion Gordon Day during a brumby roundup, ca.1945. Photo: Fitzpatrick, Jim (1940)/NLA.

Monday morning, weather permitting, the escalating thudding chattering sound of sharpshooter-bearing choppers will herald the end, locals say, to well over two centuries of the brumby bloodlines of southern Kosciuszko National Park.

The October 2023 survey of wild horse populations in KNP indicates the estimated population is between 12,934 and 22,536 horses, with a best estimate of 17,432 remaining. Those numbers are disputed by brumby advocates who have financed an independent count.

But between now and October 2024, wild horses in the north and south of the park, 6900 square kilometres, will be targeted in a bid to reduce numbers to 3000 in retention areas by 2027.

Local Mick Flanagan reckons it’s too late for them. He’s concerned the aerial cull will wipe out remaining heritage mobs occupying that area, contrary to state legislation.

“They’re talking 15 per cent of the total population of brumbies is in the south – I mean 15 per cent of what?” he said.

“But OK based on their figures we’re talking maybe around 2500 horses – take out the number already culled which is maybe 800 horses – you don’t need to be a scientist to work out there are next to no horses down here,” he said, “and of the, say 1700 remaining, half would be stallions leaving around 850 mares many of which will be too young or old, or infertile, to breed.”

A butcher by day and bushman of note, Flanagan’s block of land sits three kilometres from the NSW-Victoria border near Ingeegoodbee.

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Nestled between the remote rugged Byabo and Pilot Wilderness areas, its namesake river is an angler’s paradise.

Here, as a stouthearted 16-year-old, young Mick would tear through the bushland on horseback as a brumby runner, chasing, roping, corralling and capturing the wild horses to sell.

The tradition of “running brums” was borne from the culture of mountain cattlemen whose huts and runs still pepper the mountains.

The State Government last year got the go-ahead to deploy aerial shooters to reduce the number of wild horses across the entire park under an amendment to the Kosciuszko National Park (KNP) Wild Horse Heritage Management plan.

Man on horse

Mick Flanagan says he enjoys seeing brumbies in KNP. Photo: Supplied.

The initial month-long aerial culling operation, between 4 March and 28 March, requires closing areas of KNP south of the Alpine Way to the KNP boundary.

Operations in the northern section of the park begin from 7 am on 24 April, to 7 pm on 4 October, targeting north of the Snowy Mountains Highway and east of the Goobarragandra Powerline Road, close to the NSW-ACT border.

Thirty-eight years on, now more into running cattle than brumbies, Mick Flanagan says locals don’t believe the brumby cull in the south is necessary.

“None of us want this and it isn’t the horses that are the problem,” he said.

“When I first rode in the bush as a kid, it’d be odd to see a deer or pig, and if we did, it was probably a novelty,” he explained, “but now there are so many of the buggers, to see a horse is a novelty.”

Bushfires in 2003 marked the environmental turning point when 50 per cent of the wild horse population was destroyed or pushed north. Mick says the alpine wilderness was swiftly overtaken by impassable scrub and the national park now provides a safe haven for feral species.

“You don’t even know there are pigs there until you’re on top of them. The deer are so flighty and nimble, I don’t know how anyone could get a shot off. But horses are an easy target,” he said.

Contrary to the heritage management plan geared to protect the brumbies, the 2018 Kosciuszko Wild Horse Heritage Act, Mick believes NSW National Parks and Wildlife Service (NPWS) intend to strip the park of all horses.

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Localities within southern KNP identified as heritage significant are Pilot Wilderness, Byadbo Wilderness and Black Jack Mountain area.

“It’s not just the loss of these vital links to our past,” Mick said, “but we have people travel to this region to see the brumbies as part of their experience of the mountains. I have people ask about them all the time at work – they’re fascinated because of the poetry, the books, the films, TV series.

“I mean, people paid to see the Man from Snowy River spectacular when it ran up at the Gold Coast, it’s now a theatrical production and yet they’re completely wiping out these horses,” he said.

“It’s deplorable.”

During the aerial shooting campaign, all tracks, trails, campgrounds, huts, picnic areas and accommodation nodes within the areas will be closed.

Original Article published by Edwina Mason on About Regional.

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Was just up on the alpine way and I’ve never seen so many horses in all my time up there. I saw possibly 200 horses in the day huge groups of 20, I stopped counting . Scary part was at night when 300 or so were right up on both sides of the road over about 5km the calf’s just wandering on the road was like a horror movie with them all by the roadside.

I didn’t really think the problem was that bad but after this experience the estimates I’ve seen feel conservative.

I only saw a few roos near our camp site.

35+ years ago the ANU surveyed animal dung ratios in the south of the KNP. The surveys showed that horse and deer poo made up only a few percent of what was collected in the survey. Recently the same scientist returned to the same spot and ran an identical survey.

The results were extremely unsettling. Over 90% of the poo collected was brumby and deer, of which the brumby dung was the major part. Kangaroo and wallaby had nearly disappeared, most of the balance was possum and carnivore skats.

And this result comes from one of the least desirable habitats for horses in the park, around the Pinch River. The open grasslands might show even more disastrous results.

Kerrin Piper2:26 pm 05 Mar 24

THIS NEEDS TO STOP NOW. THE BRUMBIES HAVE BEEN IN THIS AREA FOR HUNDREDS OF YEARS. IT IS BARBARIC TO SHOOT THESE BEAUTIFUL SOULS. RIDDLE THEM WITH BILLETS UNTIL THEY DIE. POLITICIANS ARE CORRUPT, AND THERE IS NOWHERE NEAR THAT AMOUNT OF BRUMBIES IN THE PARK. I AM ASHAMED TO BE PART OF THE HUMAN RACE! SNOWY 2.0 IS DOING ALLOT MORE DAMAGE THAN THE BRUMBIES. THERE HAS BEEN AN INDEPENDENT COUNT OF AROUND 2500 BRUMBIES. IT IS UNTHINKABLE WHAT IS HAPPENING TO THESE BEAUTIFUL ANIMALS IN THEIR OWN LAND. WRONG IN SO MANY WAYS.

Time for a new keyboard as it seems your caps-lock key is sticking. Unfortunately, I only read in sentence-case, so your post became.: T.T.I.R.P.I!S.T.I.W. And I cannot make out what that is supposed to mean.

I am not sure that temporary lodgings are the best thing with which to riddle them but “until they die” is definitely where you are getting the hang of it.

Yes Kerrin Piper, as you said, “THIS NEEDS TO STOP NOW”. I agree with you. The idea that we are debating the elimination of a destructive feral pest does need to stop now and it’s time to get the job done properly.

I’m tired of hearing the strains of the Man From Snowy River in media reporting on brumbies. It’s never ending, always one sided Don’t mention the war – the reality of what these horses are doing the the alpine environment. It seems designed to encourage outrage over the plight of introduced brumbies over native bushland and delicate fish species. If the deer and pigs are a problem take them out as well. But stop the continual glorification of what’s become a feral problem.

Even the bloke in the article made a living of removing feral horses from KNP. At no time in previous history were wild-roaming horses seen as somehow belonging to that environment, and the ‘arguments’ of the contemporary pro-horse lobby are based on fiction.

While culling may achieve some short term perceived solution, the method of aerial shooting is not in my view a sound welfare one, years down the track and numbers would be back to where they started. Some long term measures such as strategic fencing and removal from sensitive areas would be a much more humane approach. Short term management solutions will give short-term results.

“the estimated population is between 12,934 and 22,536 horses, with a best estimate of 17,432 remaining”

Any population of brumbies in KNP greater than ZERO is too many.

Noreena James4:10 pm 03 Mar 24

STOP LYING… there is only around 3,000 Brumbies left.. already at its target after fires, floods, winter, shootings, and rehoming..

I quoted those numbers from the original article. But..whatever, let’s go with your numbers.. 3000 brumbies left is exactly what you said. If that is the case then that it 3000 too many brumbies in KNP. The optimal number of any and all feral animals (including brumbies) in KNP is ZERO

Kerrin Piper3:05 pm 05 Mar 24

So let’s go for example the cattle in the high country. The do gooders had them stopped. The vegetation become so bad up there, the next fire that went through, they couldn’t stop it! The cattle used to keep the vegetation down. Let’s hope, with you thinking like you do, your house isn’t in the line of the next fire in a few years with nothing eating down the vegetation up there. Didn’t think of that did you. Snowy 2.0 will do more damage then those beautiful souls will ever do. You must live in the city do you, just like our corrupt politicians, Penny Sharpe!

The heritage of Kosziusco’s brumby herds is devastation of one of Australia’s special places. Every horse must go so the native animals and plants have a chance to go on as they have for tens of millenia in delicate living balance

If you cannot graze cattle in many of these areas now because of so-called environmental concerns, what is the difference between hooved cattle and hooved Brumbies? Surely both are as ecologically destructive as each other? They are after all introduced pest and don’t belong there. Cull them.

Kerrin Piper3:09 pm 05 Mar 24

So the fires that went through the high country did so much damage the bush cannot come back. That’s better than a few hooves walking through the bush? Really? Think about it. What is going to keep the vegetation down. It is barbarick to think about what is going on up there in KNP. But then if you are a city dweller like yourself you probably wouldn’t care. Let’s just let the bush grow and get ready for the next fires!!!!!!!!!!!

Kerrin Piper3:12 pm 05 Mar 24

Fragile environment? It is the bush, it’s where wild animals are supposed to be dopey!

“Heritage mobs” – what a joke. I suppose cane toads, wild pigs & rabbits are also “heritage animals.

Get rid of these feral pests before they totally destroy this fragile environment.

Capital Retro5:04 pm 02 Mar 24

Don’t forget the trout.

Kerrin Piper3:11 pm 05 Mar 24

Fragile environment? It is the bush, it’s going to be more fragile when big fires go through from the amount of vegetation that has grown from these beautiful creatures being bordered!!!!!!!!!

If people value these blood lines they are welcome to preserve them on private property.
Feral pests have no place in public spaces and should be totally eradicated.

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