Wild horse (brumby) populations are causing major environmental damage across the Alps. But as a charismatic animal with strong cultural connection for some groups, the question of population control is a vexed and and emotional one.
Recently, the National Parks Association NSW has called on the NSW Government to release its plan for managing wild horses in the Snowy Mountains.
A draft plan of management due for public exhibition last year was delayed until December, and has again been postponed until early 2016.
The Canberra Times reports that the National Parks Association NSW chief executive Kevin Evans says consultation for the plan has been extensive. “We fear that will be wasted if we don’t start to implement clear recommendations that came from that consultation,” he said.
Researchers say numbers of horses in the national park could be as high as 14,000. Supporters of the horses say the actual number would be no where near this number.
“And on this occasion successive governments sort of shirk their responsibilities and we are finding the problem is getting worse and worse through in-action.”
Mr Evans said the association did not have a problem with horses, and understood the sensitivity around horses and the Australian landscape.
“But we also have a responsibility to speak up for the national heritage values of Australia, and horses in this context are compromising those biological and cultural values, and governments are culpable in not implementing strategies that can address this problem,” he said.
From an animal welfare and a cost perspective, aerial culling and follow up with on-ground measures like trapping and shooting are the most effective means to quickly deal with the issue, according to Mr Evans. “We don’t believe it is possible to eradicate them. No one is talking about that.”
The association says the spread of horses is costing the National Parks and Wildlife Service money which has been spent on ineffective programs.
People opposed to aerial culling say horses can be trapped and re-homed. Mr Evans said many of the trapped horses ended up stressed, and sometimes injured.
“Those animals end up in the pet trade, they go to an abattoir anyway,” he says. “People are in denial about the consequences of removing animals for the perceived re-homing, it is not a wonderful ending for many of the animals.”
“The government should cut to the chase and get on with it,” Mr Evans said.
RSPCA Australia says aerial shooting is one of a number of lethal and non-lethal management methods that should be considered.
In 2014 Member for Monaro John Barilaro said the draft management plan would go on exhibition in mid-2015.
“Love it or hate it, wild horses are a part of the Kosciuszko environment. The brumbies are a quintessential Australian symbol; they have earned their place as part of the iconic bush heritage in this region and must be protected,” Mr Barilaro said in a press release at the time.
Snowy Mountains Bush Users Group president Peter Cochran has led lobbying to regain access into the southern end of the national park, from Thredbo to the Victorian border.
Mr Cochran says the brumby should be acknowledged as part of the cultural heritage of the Snowy Mountains, and preserved and in a sustainable number.