THE suggestion to aerially cull a national icon has some animal groups seeing red and others sitting on the fence, but experts say it is essential for the survival of wildlife and vegetation in national parks.
NSW Environment Minister Robyn Parker announced this week the National Parks and Wildlife Service (NPWS) would examine brumby control methods in Kosciuszko National Park.
Ms Parker said the current Kosciuszko National Park management plan of trapping horses was drafted in 2008 and had not kept pace with horse breeding rates.
“Humane treatment of horses will remain a key component of control measures but national parks staff are concerned at the damage horses are causing to high country waterways and ecosystems,” Ms Parker said.
The last aerial survey of the Australian Alps which includes Kosciuszko National Park, was conducted in 2009, and estimated the horse population at 7679, compared with 2369 in 2003.
Ms Parker said the methodology used in horse surveys across the Alps was internationally recognised best practice, however, the next survey would take in a much greater area to increase the level of precision in estimating horse numbers.
“The best and most recent research, collected using the most rigorous methodology will underpin future policy.”
National Parks Association chief executive Kevin Evans has called for the aerial culling of brumbies in Kosciuszko National Park and for the practice to be approved by the RSPCA.
“We are calling on the NSW government to reintroduce a professional aerial culling program that follows stringent animal welfare protocols approved by the RSPCA,” Mr Evans said.
“Such a program would be an effective and humane way to reduce feral horse numbers over large areas.”
But Hunter Valley Brumby Association president Kathryn Massey (pictured) said RSPCA approval would not guarantee the brumbies would be humanely killed.
“Brumbies cannot be humanely killed from a helicopter,” Ms Massey said.
Ms Massey believed trapping was an effective way of controlling numbers.
RSPCA of NSW chief executive officer Steve Coleman said nobody could guarantee that 100 per cent of aerially culled animals would be killed humanely, however, the organisation trained aerial shooting teams to exercise humane culling methods.
He said the RSPCA’s involvement in aerial culling came about after about 600 brumbies were aerial culled at Guy Fawkes National Park north-east of Armidale in 2000.
He said a moratorium was placed on the aerial culling of brumbies after one wounded horse had been found alive two weeks later, and animal carcases had been left in the national park.
Asked if he believed some of the damage in national parks could be from other pests like pigs or goats, he disagreed, saying it would be difficult for anything other than a horse to cause such a degree of damage.
“We don’t think aerial culling is the only method, but despite the best trapping efforts of rangers, numbers have increased.”
The report Observations of Pest Horse Impacts in the Australian Alps, released in March claimed the national icon caused “unprecedented, pervasive and destructive” impacts to the Kosciuszko National Park.
The report’s author, Australian National University’s (ANU) Dr Graeme Worboys said there were “just too many pest horses” and that something needed to be done to protect vegetation and wildlife in brumby-inhabited national parks.
“Our observations in the Mount Pilot Wilderness Area of Kosciuszko National Park showed multiple impacts from an estimated 14,000 horses, including overgrazing, collapsing stream banks, stream erosion and sphagnum bog and stream-side wetland destruction,” Dr Worboys said.
“This is destroying the natural vegetation and erosion protection of these headwater catchments and what’s serious, with the numbers of pest horses increasing, it can only get worse.”
Co-author of the report and former conservation and protected area manager Ian Pulsford, said he and Dr Worboys inspected the area intermittently across a 40-year period, and said while horses had always been present, recent inspections showed the area had suffered the worst damaged they had ever seen.
Mr Pulsford said Victoria, NSW and South Australia all rely on these mountain catchments because they contribute to 30 per cent of the Murray Darling Basin water supply.