NSW says it will cut feral horse numbers after survey shows runaway growth

Ian Bushnell 16 December 2019 18
Brumbies at Currango Plains in the Kosciuszko National Park

Feral horses or brumbies at Currango Plains in the Kosciuszko National Park. Their numbers are exploding. Photo: John Barilaro.

NSW says it will reduce the number of feral horses in Kosciuszko National Park after a new survey revealed an explosion in numbers that is alarming environmentalists and the ACT Government, concerned at the threat to habitat and the water catchment.

The 2019 Australian Alps feral horse aerial survey shows that feral horses have more than doubled in numbers over the past five years from 9180 to 25,318, an increase of 23 per cent a year.

Last year NSW stopped culling the horses after passing legislation recognising their cultural and heritage value, with local National Member for Monaro and Deputy Premier John Barilaro vocal in his support for the ‘brumby’.

While the ACT Government’s review of its feral horse management plan found it had effectively prevented the re-establishment of populations in Namadgi National Park, there are concerns about the ”sustained and increased threat” from horses in the northern end of Kosciuszko National Park bordering the Territory.

NSW Environment Minister Matt Kean offered some solace to the ACT, saying the NSW Government would take steps to reduce the number of horses in the Kosciuszko National Park ”in a humane way”.

He did not say what sort of program this might entail but the current legislation rules out lethal culling, which points to removal from the park or transfer within it.

Mr Kean said the survey estimated that there were about 19,000 horses in the Kosciuszko National Park, compared to about 6,000 in 2014. “These numbers are unacceptable and unsustainable for our natural environment,” he said.

ACT Environment Minister Mick Gentleman said feral horses did not recognise state boundaries and the scientific evidence was clear that heavy-hoofed pests such as feral horses were damaging the landscape.

“I recently toured impacted areas to survey the damage and eroded waterways these heavy-hoofed feral animals cause,” he said.

“I have raised and will continue to press this issue with my State and Federal Government colleagues. We need to conserve our water quality and protect critically endangered animals like the northern corroboree frog, which lives in the moist alpine bogs of the ACT high country.”

Murrumbidgee River

The degraded banks of the Murrumbidgee River are caused by feral horses. Photo: ACT Government.

Mr Gentleman said the integrity of the high-country areas was vital to preserve the quality of Canberra’s drinking water, and the water that flows from the Australian Alps, which contributes more than 30 per cent of inflows into the Murray-Darling system.

Feral horses that do cross into Namadgi are trapped, shot and removed but Mr Gentleman fears that if numbers keep growing the pressure on the ACT may eventually necessitate aerial culling.

National Parks Association of the ACT (NPA ACT) president Esther Gallant said feral horse numbers in the NSW and Victorian sections of the Australian Alps had multiplied unchecked to the point of destruction of crucial headwaters wetlands of the Murrumbidgee, Murray and Snowy rivers.

Two recent NPA ACT field trips into the region of Kosciuszko National Park west of the Brindabella Mountains and adjacent to Namadgi had confirmed the severity of the damage being caused by feral horses.

“The horses are trampling sensitive ecosystems, causing massive damage to native vegetation in many areas, especially to sphagnum moss, which plays an important role in maintaining water supply during dry periods by gradually releasing stored water,” she said.

Professor Gallant said the increasing numbers threatened to make implementation of ACT Government policy more difficult and costly for Canberrans.

“Deer and pigs are already damaging Namadgi National Park, although efforts to reduce the number of these ungulates – hard-hoofed animals — are underway. If we have another bushfire in Namadgi of the magnitude of the 2003 fires, there would be no possibility of recovery with large ungulates immediately devouring every bit of green regrowth.”

The review will contribute to an updated ACT feral horse management plan in 2020 that will incorporate the latest science and population numbers.

The current ACT plan is available from the Environment, Planning and Sustainable Development Directorate.

The critically endangered northern corroboree frog

The critically endangered northern corroboree frog lives in the moist alpine bogs of the ACT high country.


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18 Responses to NSW says it will cut feral horse numbers after survey shows runaway growth
Cary Elliot Johnson Cary Elliot Johnson 9:22 am 20 Dec 19

Well hello....common sense prevails at last.

Elizabeth Gossell Elizabeth Gossell 8:09 pm 17 Dec 19

There is no runaway growth at all - there are so many versions of so-called 'surveys' that people get muddled up, but there is no way 9187 horses morphed into 25,000 in 5 years!

    JM Cregan JM Cregan 1:45 pm 20 Dec 19

    not to mention that the numbers of 9,000 are exaggerated as well!

Deb Collins Deb Collins 7:39 pm 17 Dec 19

Dane Sandenberg, I think you are a bit misguided. Of the 99 that were trapped recently in the Blue Water Holes area, 63 went to rehoming programs. 22 of those went to one program in SA and another large group went to Victoria. They are not inbred and do not have health problems, as you state. Brumby advocates want humane management and governments who will work with stake holders to preserve our heritage horses in sustainable, manageable numbers. I was up there 2 weeks ago and travelled many kms to a variety of areas in the park. The numbers I saw are no where near what has been estimated.

JM Cregan JM Cregan 7:32 pm 17 Dec 19

A;pologies for the long post.. but how long is this rubbish going to continue?The utter rubbish people believe.. in 2014 numbers were 6000, last year, they were 9,000. So, will someone tell me how a ‘guesstimate’ of 9,000 horses during a drought mot animals do not breed (drought 2017-present) can give birth to 14,000 live foals IN ONE YEAR? The horses are not starving, Brumby running is against that law so ‘don’t try to go catch one’ however, there are horses that have been trapped and if you want a good sturdy, dependable horse, contact the Brumby Alliance for contacts. The people that released these numbers have not told you what matrix they used to count. (if at all) they will not tell you that they included STATE PARKS NOT ASSOCIATED IN THE LEAST WITH KOSCIUSZKO NATIONAL PARK. The Brumby Bill grants the wild horses ‘HERITAGE VALUE’ not ‘HERITAGE LISTING’ (two totally separate things entirely) THE CORROBOREE FROG IS PICTURED HERE… WHY? The frogs main cause of demise is the chytrid fungus (Batrachochytrium dendrobatidis),Horses don’t even make it to the ‘predator’ list.. wild cats take the honour here followed by pigs *proven scientific fact* Horses will NOT attact people. Wild pigs and deer in the KNP now ‘proven’ to be in their millions WILL ATTACK PEOPLE. The Brumby Panel continue to meet and discuss the issue with an agreement to the exact number of horses to be removed to be released in the future. Meanwhile passive trapping continues. Numbers do need to be managed but if you can’t get an accurate count in the first place? Work together for the win win in number management is the way to go. Not animals haters. There are no remaining ‘pristine’ areas of wilderness thanks to man who continues to bring in foreign seeds like orange hawk-weed into the park.Why is the Corroboree frog named and pictured in this article.. Do the wild horses look like a fungus? hysterical propaganda reigns supreme once again. Here, educate yourself! Threats to the southern corroborree frog.

The southern corroboree frog has no natural predators because it oozes a toxin from its skin, an alkaloid called pseudophrynamine. However, it is threatened by other factors. These threats include human impacts such as climate change, fire and habitat disturbance, as well as fire and feral animals (Cats and Pigs top the list). But the biggest problem is the chytrid fungus (Batrachochytrium dendrobatidis), which has been decimating frog populations around the world. The fungus only infects the tadpoles and adult frogs that have keratin, which it needs to thrive. Frog eggs are immune because they contain no keratin. In January 2014, the entire population of southern corroboree frogs was estimated to be fewer than 50 individuals in the wild. The population has declined by more than 99 per cent since the 1980s.

Conservation programs

A program to save the species includes collaboration of the NSW Office of Environment and Heritage with Amphibian Research Centre, Taronga Zoo, Melbourne Zoo, and Healseville Sanctuary to save the species and breed the frog eggs and realease them into the wild. PROGRAMS ARE WORKING SLOWLY BUT SURELY WITH TADPOLES NOT HAVING THE FUNGUS,

    Ryu Callaway Ryu Callaway 6:35 pm 20 Dec 19

    JM Cregan No one said horses were predators. The threat they pose is the destruction of sphagnum bogs (their habitat) which are highly sensitive to trampling, not to mention their impact on water quality etc.

Peter Andy Peter Andy 9:06 am 17 Dec 19

The Feral Horse protection bill needs to be scraped and John Barilaro also needs to be scrapped for his cronyism.

Sue Sutton Sue Sutton 7:37 am 17 Dec 19

Very disappointed in the NSW govt who claimed when they introduced the legislation that they would remove horses from the park. Letting them starve to death is not the way to do it!

Graham Cox Graham Cox 10:07 pm 16 Dec 19

They should be 110% wiped out. If people want to keep their heritage, breed them domestically.

Pamela Tomlinson Pamela Tomlinson 6:36 pm 16 Dec 19

In a drought I don’t think many horse people can afford an extra mouth to feed!

    Dane Sandeberg Dane Sandeberg 7:46 am 17 Dec 19

    Pamela Tomlinson Most horse people want nothing to do with brumbies, the vast majority have serious illnesses and are inbred.

    Pamela Tomlinson Pamela Tomlinson 7:51 am 17 Dec 19

    I knew a few friends who have them and adore them, I personally would love one, but with this drought and the high level of care I like to give my horses, I can only afford one. And that's the dork I have now :)

    Maret Rose Maret Rose 6:03 pm 17 Dec 19

    Dane Sandeberg

    Get your facts right

    Dane Sandeberg Dane Sandeberg 6:17 pm 17 Dec 19

    Maret Rose They are right. Out of the last catch less than 10% were adopted, for the reasons I listed above. Where were the other brumby supporters to stop the rest from going to the knackery? Nowhere to be seen.

    Elizabeth Gossell Elizabeth Gossell 8:06 pm 17 Dec 19

    Dane Sandeberg Evidence for this statement?! No, probably not.

    Elizabeth Gossell Elizabeth Gossell 8:07 pm 17 Dec 19

    Dane Sandeberg So you don't approve of horses going to the knackery, is that right? You need to mix with people who do the rescues so you can see facts, not spin!

    Dane Sandeberg Dane Sandeberg 9:13 pm 17 Dec 19

    It would have taken you less time to Google a result in my statement than it would to type your reply. You are only interested in following a dream as opposed to accepting facts.

Junior Wat Junior Wat 6:18 pm 16 Dec 19

Kate Watson lets go catch some

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