Cattlemen and horsemen and women of the high country in Victoria are gathering to the fray in a bid to save brumbies as the Victorian Government moves to institute a large cull of the wild horse population.
One farmer has offered his property as a sanctuary to save up to 100 brumbies on the Bogong Plains area. He has the support of local landholders and the Victorian Liberal MP Bill Tilley.
Parks Victoria is moving quickly to institute a culling program that could see up to 400 brumbies removed from the alpine park area. Late on Monday, Parks Victoria announced it would delay the cull until winter. It followed an injunction sought against the cull by brumby supporters in the Victorian Supreme Court.
It is believed that the cull will happen by shooting, a practice outlawed in NSW.
A legal stand-off over the last two years has seen brumby numbers skyrocket, with claims they are damaging by "pugging" the source of the Murray River and other pristine alpine locations.
Brumby supporters say the brumbies have bloodlines going back 140 years and are part of the heritage of the Alpine areas. The Victorian brumbies do not have the same legislative recognition in Victoria as they do in NSW under Deputy Premier John Barilaro's controversial brumbies Heritage Bill brought in two years ago. In Victoria brumbies are classified as "pest animals".
Brumby supporter Bill Tilley, the member for Benambra said: "Brumby populations must be managed appropriately in Victoria" but he said "brumbies are an iconic part of Victoria's cultural heritage and High Country identity and their population numbers need to be managed sustainably.
"The Government must have appropriate, ethical management measures in place to protect our natural environment.
"Mustering and rehoming must be the priority in any government program to manage brumby numbers, rather than shooting and eradication."
Omeo cattleman Phil Maguire is leading the round-up to save the brumbies at Bogong Plains.
He said on facebook that saving the brumbies was part of the "great Australian rebellion".
It is believed up to 20 riders have accepted the challenge to move the Bogong brumbies to Mr Maguire's place at Omeo, where he already has 40 brumbies.
He says he will feed and keep them there.
Parks Victoria chief executive Matthew Jackson said the Government had legal backing to continue with a cull.
"The Victorian Government is committed to protecting Victoria's biodiversity, ensuring it is healthy, valued and actively cared for," Mr Jackson said.
"Parks Victoria has a legal and moral obligation to protect the native species that are at risk of extinction from the impacts of feral horses and other pest animals.
"The conservation of Alpine National Park is key to this. Native alpine plants and animals which are found nowhere else on the planet are not equipped to deal with the weight, grazing, hard hooves or trampling of feral horses.
"The 2019-20 bushfires wiped out very large areas of habitat for our unique native species. The areas less affected by fire now provide the only habitat for threatened native species and are being severely damaged by feral horses, whose numbers have significantly increased in the past five years.
"By removing large invasive herbivores from the sensitive landscape, Parks Victoria is providing a greater chance of survival for native species. Feral horse management is one component of an integrated approach to reducing the impacts of introduced animals in the Alpine National Park.
"Parks Victoria regularly undertakes programs to manage deer, pigs and other non-native species, complementing feral horse management.
"All feral horse management operations are thoroughly planned, carried out by highly qualified and experienced professionals under strict conditions, ensuring the operations are safe, effective, humane and in accordance with all relevant legislation, codes of practice and standard operating procedures.
"Safety is a priority, so Parks Victoria is working with Victoria Police to protect the welfare of people involved in the program.
"Planning and implementation of the feral horse management program is underway and will be ongoing. Additional information will be posted on the Parks Victoria website to keep people informed."
A recent aerial survey found there were up to 25,000 brumbies in the Kosciuszko National Park in NSW, a figure disputed by brumby supporters.