Daniel Andrews defends his plan to cull wild horses as protesters gather outside state parliament | National parks
Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews has defended the decision to cull feral horses that are causing ecological damage to Victoria’s fragile alpine ecosystems, as protesters campaigning against the planned shooting crowded the steps of parliament in the state.
Parks Victoria plans to remove 500 horses from the eastern alpine region this year as part of a wild horse management plan that includes the eventual removal of all horses from Barmah National Park on the Murray River and the high Bogong Plains .
The protest comes a month after Parks Victoria launched a tender for wildlife control in alpine areas, for the ground shooting of “deer, wild pigs, goats, foxes and other species”. Jill Pickering, chair of the Australian Brumby Alliance, says she thinks other species will include horses.
“They don’t announce the shooting until after it’s happened,” she said.
Parks Victoria declined to confirm any shooting plans and said it would not release details of when and where the planned shoots would be to protect the safety of its staff and contractors.
“There are large numbers of feral horses in Alpine and Barmah National Parks and the damage they cause is evident,” a spokesperson said. “Parcs Victoria must respond to the current situation with the best techniques available.”
There are around 5,000 feral horses in the Eastern Alps, 600 in Barmah National Park and 100 in the high plains of Bogong, according to surveys by Parks Victoria.
Andrews said the state government’s plan to control feral horses, which was revised last year, was humane and based on protecting national parks.
‘If you care about biodiversity and if you care about the natural environment, this pristine environment belongs to every Victorian… it will not be maintained if you are overrun by wild animals,’ he told reporters . “And we won’t spend millions and millions of dollars relocating them.”
The wild horse management plan states that some horses will be removed through passive trapping and rehousing, especially in more accessible areas like Barmah National Park.
But he says the difficulty of trapping horses in remote parts of the Eastern Alps, combined with a shortage of people with the knowledge and ability to train wild horses, meant it was ‘unlikely to be captured and rehomed. contribute significantly to the necessary reduction of feral horse populations in the Eastern Alps”.
Where repatriation cannot occur, he says, shooting from the ground or aerial shooting will be considered.
Pickering says that despite the repatriation policy, the government “by default, shoots”. She also denied that the science was established on the damage feral horses do to Australian ecosystems.
Wednesday’s protest also coincided with the state’s opposition announcing that it would ban the culling of feral horses to focus on “repatriation and veterinary intervention,” a proposal that advocates say animal welfare and environmentalists, would not be able to handle the volume of horses that need to be removed from national parks.
The stance echoes a decision by the New South Wales National Party to end the culling of feral horses in Kosciuszko National Park by declaring them a heritage breed. In November, the NSW government approved a plan to reduce the number of feral horses from over 14,000 to 3,000, a number that conservationists said was still too high.
Victorian Opposition Leader Matthew Guy said ending the culling was both humane and sensible.
“This is not a new issue, it goes back to the Snowy River man and beyond,” he said. “We can re-school, rehouse greyhounds, we should be able to do it with brumbies.”
Pro-Brumby groups, including the Australian Brumby Alliance, have argued that horses should be trapped at a rate of around 200 a year, allowing recyclers to keep pace, and that other controls of population should be effected via the use of fertility control drugs.
Parks Victoria and the RSPCA say fertility control drugs are not a feasible option for a large and diverse feral horse population, especially since they need to be re-administered after a few years.
Matt Ruchel, of the Victorian National Parks Association, said there was a world of difference between the repatriation of a Greyhound, a low-energy dog bred by humans, and the knowledge and facilities needed to retrain and rehome a wild horse.
“We don’t repatriate wild dogs,” Ruchel said.
Ruchel said the Coalition’s policy was “disappointing” and that controlling feral horse numbers required a combination of approaches, including repatriation and culling.
“There just isn’t the demand [for rehomed brumbies] to effectively control the numbers,” he said.
Ruchel said calls by pro-Brumby advocates for more research to determine the effects of feral horses on national parks were “just a delaying tactic”.
“There are decades of science pointing to this problem,” he said.
Mhairi Roberts of RSPCA Victoria said there were circumstances in which shooting, by trained snipers, was “more humane than other options”.
She said feral horses were under great stress from certain methods of capture and the process of transport to rehomers, and there were thousands of non-feral horses in Victoria who also needed homes.
“We are seeing a high number of reports of animal cruelty involving horses, most related to neglect,” she said. “Based on these reports, we think the market is already pretty saturated. We don’t think there would be enough homes in the state for a large number of wild horses.