3 June 2024

24-fold increase in annual wild horse removals gives KNP's native animals a chance, conservationists say

| Edwina Mason
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Wild horses

A NSW Upper House inquiry has heard that 8718 wild horses have been removed from Kosciuszko National Park since November 2021, with 5539 of those culled using aerial shooting methods, approved for use in October 2023. Photo: Invasive Species Council.

Conservationists have welcomed new NSW Government data that reveals more wild horses, or brumbies, have been removed from Kosciuszko National Park (KNP) in the past 11 months, since aerial culling methods were introduced, than in the previous 21 years combined.

In evidence tabled at last week’s NSW Upper House inquiry into aerial shooting of wild horses in KNP, the National Parks and Wildlife Association (NPWS) confirmed a total of 8718 wild horses had been culled from the park since November 2021, when the KNP Wild Horse Heritage Management Plan came into force.

But in the past 11 months, of the 7111 wild horses removed, 5539 of those were culled using aerial shooting methods, approved for use in October 2023.

According to the Invasive Species Council (ISC), the figures represent a 24-fold increase in the annual average removal rate of 288 wild horses, since the NSW Government trapping program began in 2003, which saw a total of 6084 horses removed as annual population numbers surged.

ISC advocacy director Jack Gough said that, for the first time, the number of horses removed from the park would exceed the annual growth in horse populations, giving hope a major threat to under-pressure ecosystems was starting to be addressed.

“This is great news for our native animals and mountain streams,” he said. “Of course, there is still a long way to go before our native wildlife will finally be safe and can recover from years of damage.

READ ALSO NPWS employee cleared of misconduct in face of allegations of ‘black market’ trade of KNP’s wild horses

“No-one likes to see animals killed, but the sad reality is that we have a choice to make between urgently reducing the numbers of feral horses or accepting the destruction of sensitive alpine rivers, and the decline and extinction of native animals and their homes.”

The figures also gave rise to confirmation from NPWS Deputy Secretary Atticus Fleming that wild horses would no longer be removed from the four retention areas across KNP.

The current management plan for wild horses imposes a legal obligation on NSW National Parks to carry out control operations to reduce the wild horse population to 3000.

The plan, which falls under the Kosciuszko Wild Horse Heritage Act (2018), protects the heritage values of the wild horses by retaining populations in 32 per cent of the park.

Mr Fleming told the inquiry the NPWS had given an undertaking (to the NSW Supreme Court) that it would remove only 811 horses from the northern retention area between 9 May and 30 June.

“That number, as of today, a few hours ago, has been reached,” he said. “That means, for our program going forward, until we do our next survey, which is likely October 2024, we won’t be removing any horses from the four retention areas.”

Mr Fleming said, based on advice received from CSIRO, the Queensland Department of Agriculture and the University of New England, the horse population in the retention areas now, with 97.5 per cent certainty, was at least 3712 horses, “so likely much more than that and well above the legal limit or the legal population target still”.

Horse control, Mr Fleming said, would continue in removal areas.

Reclaim Kosci campaign co-founder and Invasive Species Council Indigenous ambassador Richard Swain said the new data should “once and for all end the ridiculous anti-science questioning of the accuracy of the count of feral horses being pushed by fringe groups that do not want to see a single feral horse removed from the national park”.

“Their so-called expert witness, Claire Galea, stated in November 2023 that she’d be ‘amazed if there’s 500 to 600 horses at most’ in the whole national park at that time,” he said. ”Almost 6000 horses have been removed since then, 10 times more than her estimate.”

READ ALSO Call for NPWS to stop brumby cull in face of ‘flawed’ population count

Mr Swain also singled out former Member for Monaro Peter Cochran, “[who] stated that there was ‘lucky to be 900 horses’ in the park in July 2021”.

“There have been over 8500 horses removed since he said that,” Mr Swain said.

“For the sake of Country, we all need to move past these ridiculous claims and stick with the peer-reviewed science conducted by experts in wildlife ecology.”

Nature Conservation Council of NSW CEO Jacqui Mumford said the increase in wild horse control gave alpine ecosystems a chance to bounce back.

“Feral horses in Kosciuszko National Park have pushed dozens of threatened flora and fauna species to the brink after their numbers spiralled out of control, including the iconic corroboree frog, the broad-toothed rat and rare alpine orchids,” Ms Mumford said.

“This decision will grant some breathing space to the ecosystems being trampled. We look forward to watching them recover.”

The NSW Government has also confirmed 239,034 feral animals, including pigs, deer and horses, were removed across the state through aerial shooting between July 2021 and June 2023.

Original Article published by Edwina Mason on About Regional.

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Jane Chappell9:42 am 04 Jun 24

Firstly we only have the word of Atticus Fleming on how many brumbies have been culled…a man with a history of “backing the wrong horse” if you look at his AWC tenure as CEO…hiring the Wildlife Detective who it appears made up discoveries of 2 groups of Night Pigeons…Stuart Cairns who’s guess as to brumby numbers was not peer reviewed…versus peer reviewed photographs using cutting edge technology…more recently Penny Sharpe who turns up at an inquiry into aerial culling of brumbies with a picture of a broad tooth rat instead of numbers and stats that she was well aware would be required…then the RSPCA who appear so determined to find nothing amiss with anything NPWS NSW does that they attend at a property where a complaint has been made of an illegal knackery…and they see a cold room but don’t bother to look inside…and don’t even traverse the property looking for remains…
Seems to me pretty a pretty clear conspiracy…then add ISC in…putting forward pro forma requests for aerial culling…a significant proportion coming from outside the state…either this is just the most gross mismanagement imaginable…or it’s a conspiracy…either way…heads should roll…only not brumby heads…

Sheryl Gildea4:33 pm 03 Jun 24

The number of Brumbies was recorded at below 3,000 at June 2023. The areas where the native species under threat is not where the Brumbies mainly are and the Corroboree frogs near disappearance was proven to be from a fungal disease, not habitat destruction. The heartening news is the frog’s population has increased thanks to a breeding program by Taronga Zoo.

Sheryl Gildea4:27 pm 03 Jun 24

As of June 2023, when a proper count was done by a biostatistician, the population of wild horses in Kosciuszko was under the sustainable level of 3,000, making the culling unnecessary.

With all your comments you get a number of things wrong but lets just deal with this one for now. The ‘proper count’ you speak of was only conducted over 3% of the park. The method used was not tested and has only had one person review it. The method only was reviewed and it showed the sample size was small. This resulted in over 2500 false images that had to be eliminated by humans. There is no count, including the one you rely on, that estimates the population of horses to be less than 3000 in the park or even in the retention areas. The numbers of horses removed since the ‘Rocky’ prove this count to be inaccurate and extremely expensive.

Sheryl Gildea4:24 pm 03 Jun 24

Considering the number of wild horses in the Parks is grossly exaggerated to justify the culling of our Heritage horses, it’s a wonder there are any left for the public to enjoy. As for the supposed damage they do to the environment, after co-existing there for nearly 200 years, time will tell if this past year’s slaughter was necessary.

Marilyn Nuske1:58 pm 03 Jun 24

The population surveys relied on by NPWS were proven flawed by an independent biostatistician, who discovered Cairns changed the methodology to suit himself when he added clusters form his 2024 with 2019 clusters.
He failed to tell St Andrew’s Uni who did not peer review his method. They also noted there were issues with his numbers being greater increases for the species than is usual. Flawed, unreliable.
Time now for a count using alternative up to date method.
Flawed numbers =Flawed policy to the detriment of our Heritage brumbies protected by Legislation

You can continue saying this but it will never make it true. Claire Galea has not proven Stuart Cairns’ results to be wrong or flawed. She is entitled to an opinion but she is not an expert in the field, has not written any papers in the field and cannot complete a Phd. She has (by her own words) put that career behind her to pursue something else. You also have no experience in these matters and keep referring to the very expensive high tech, state of the art count as if it actually came up with anything substantial. It was not high tech at all. A plane flew over and took photos. The photos were joined together and people counted most of the horses manually. If you were to rely on the AI to count horses it would have totalled almost 3000 in that very, very tiny area.

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