22 May 2023

Minister sticks to guns in rejecting claims brumbies were inhumanely shot during Snowy Plain cull

| Edwina Mason
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These wild horse carcasses were recently discovered on the Snowy Plain. Photo: Supplied.

WARNING: This article contains images that may distress some readers.

Any suggestion wild horses are being shot in the gut is false, says NSW Environment Minister Penny Sharpe.

Ms Sharpe came out all guns blazing after news of the slaughter of 67 wild horses on Snowy Plain in the heart of Kosciuszko National Park (KNP) reached mainstream media.

Despite the outcry from supporters of the wild horses, known as brumbies, Ms Sharpe stuck to her guns, insisting the NSW National Parks and Wildlife Service (NPWS) was under a legal obligation to reduce horse numbers in the park from an estimated population of more than 18,000 to 3000.

“This is necessary because horses are having a significant impact on Kosciuszko National Park, including its threatened species,” Ms Sharpe said.

READ ALSO Grisly discovery of 67 wild horses shot in Kosciuszko National Park

Rejecting on-the-ground reports of the inhumane shooting of the horses and an outcry over the safety of park users, Ms Sharpe said ground shooting was in accordance with the control methods approved in the KNP Wild Horse Heritage Management Plan.

“All control measures under the plan are required to meet the highest possible animal welfare standards, and these standards are being met,” she said.

Ms Sharpe also said operational details about control would not be publicly released to protect the safety of NPWS staff, contractors and visitors, and the welfare of the wild horses.

Penny Sharpe

Minister Sharpe says animal welfare standards are being met under the KNP Wild Horse Heritage Management Plan. Photo: NSW Legislative Council.

Having visited KNP in April, Ms Sharpe said she had advised parliament the horses’ impact on the environment could not be ignored.

“The horses are too many and they are causing significant damage, and we need to make sure that it is addressed as soon as possible,” she told parliament in May.

Even despite increasing the rate of removal, the Minister said, the targeted reduction of the horse population to 3000 by June 2027 was not on track and was, in fact, increasing.

She said the government was working with the NPWS to see how quickly it could deliver the desired result.

injured brumby

Environment Minister Penny Sharpe says any suggestion wild horses were shot in the gut during a recent cull on Snowy Plain is false. Photo: Supplied.

Ms Sharpe said NPWS staff members had been on the receiving end of “absolutely unacceptable” behaviour from a small number of community members.

“I make it clear that the NSW Government has zero tolerance for harassments or threats directed towards any public officials, but as Minister for the Environment I reinforce that we absolutely have zero tolerance for any harm done or threats made to National Parks officers or their families when they are going about the work we ask them to do,” she told parliament.

Member for Monaro Steve Whan said he was aware of the threats to NPWS staff and, while he hadn’t seen direct evidence, he said had no reason not to believe it had occurred.

“In fact, I think that’s acknowledged by some people who are pro-brumby, that NPWS staff are wary of people because they’ve been getting negative reactions and I’ve certainly seen over many, many years of being involved in this that not everybody who is opposed to action being taken to reduce the brumbies’ population does that in a nice way,” Mr Whan said.

READ ALSO Three new spider species discovered in Kosciuszko National Park

Former MP and brumby advocate Peter Cochran said without clear evidence, he was dubious about any threats.

“All this business about being afraid to go out in public, not wanting their photos taken and signage all over the park saying it’s illegal to take photos of NPWS workers, all because of perceived threats – yet they’ve said nobody’s been charged with any offence,” Mr Cochran said.

“My feeling is it’s a facade to give them licence to go and shoot the horses without being accountable.”

Mr Cochran has, however, urged restraint from anyone inclined to air their concerns to local NPWS staff.

But public safety was of paramount concern, he said.

“You cannot have the general public out in the national park bushwalking, riding, sightseeing while marksmen are ground shooting in parts unknown, without warning – it’s just not a good place to be no matter how professional these shooters are said to be,” he said.

“People have short memories – it wasn’t that long ago NPWS faced serious charges … 617 wild horses were shot in Guy Fawkes National Park in a botched aerial shooting that left bullet-riddled carcasses and horses dying of their injuries days later.

”For goodness’ sake, deer were being shot from the air last year in a national park near where hikers had been sighted by the crew.

“Most brumby supporters acknowledge the need to manage horse numbers in KNP – but nobody wants to see them treated inhumanely and certainly nobody wants a tragedy on their hands.”

He’s now calling for a royal commission into the management of Kosciuszko National Park, which he describes as the “most mismanaged” in the country.

“Forget the horses for a moment,” he said. “Let’s look at the big picture: we’ve had two massive bushfires in 2003 and 2020, there’s a proliferation of feral animals – and by that I mean foxes, deer, pigs, cats and wild dogs – and a massive noxious weed problem. Add to that an ever-expanding ski industry and the belief that we can rape the land with a massive and brutally invasive power-generation plant, for which there is zero accountability, and we have the greatest environmental abuses in Australian history.

“I reckon the biggest problem here is a bureaucracy at the heart of this who might have the horses in the crosshairs when they themselves should be the ones answerable.”

Original Article published by Edwina Mason on About Regional.

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This may not look like it, but it is just another facet of one of many conflicts around the world over wildlife management, between passionate unscientific people with a narrow world view, and a huge scientific consensus about what needs to be done, how best to do it, and when to do it. The real difference of opinion here is not about animal welfare. It is about whether large herds of wild horses should be allowed to in Kosciusko. All other issues are just convenient ‘ammo’ to attack the National Park with.

There are ~$18,000 horses in Kosciusko according to scientists and the plan says only 3,000 are to be there by July 2026. That horse management plan is based on majority public support during the consultation phase. For more than a year we have known that this shooting was coming, in this location, among others.

Some of the most vocal opponents of the shooting have a commercial interest in retaining the horses. Some of the most passionate opponents of the shooting have resorted to vandalism including felling trees, and to making threats against parks staff. Don’t be sucked in by numerous false claims and exaggerations from the brumby lobby.

And if the minister is wrong, she should resign from PARLIAMENT immediately and without trying on political mumbo jumbo as they always try to do.

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