Daniel Andrews defends plan to cull feral horses as protesters rally outside state parliament | National parks

Victorian premier, Daniel Andrews, has defended a decision to cull feral horses causing ecological damage to Victoria’s fragile Alpine ecosystems, as protesters campaigning against the planned shooting amassed on the steps of state parliament.

Parks Victoria plans to remove 500 horses from the eastern Alpine region this year as part of a feral horse management plan that includes the eventual removal of all horses from Barmah national park on the Murray River and the Bogong high plains.

The protest comes a month after Parks Victoria issued a tender for feral animal control in alpine areas for the ground shooting of “deer, feral pigs, goats, foxes, and other species.” Jill Pickering, the president of the Australian Brumby Alliance, says she believes the other species will include horses.

“They don’t announce the shooting until after it has happened,” she said.

Parks Victoria refused to confirm any shooting plans and says it does not release details about the timing and location of planned culls to protect the safety of its staff and contractors.

“There are large numbers of feral horses in the Alpine and Barmah national parks, and the damage they cause is evident,” a spokesperson said. “Parks Victoria needs to respond to the current situation with the best techniques available.”

According to surveys conducted by Parks Victoria, there are an estimated 5,000 feral horses in the eastern alps, 600 in Barmah national park, and 100 in the Bogong high plains.

Andrews said the state government’s plan to control feral horses, revised last year, was humane and based on protecting national parks.

Protesters on the steps of the Victorian parliament. Photograph: Joel Carrett/AAP

“If you care about biodiversity and if you care about the natural environment, that pristine environment is owned by every single Victorian … it will not be maintained if feral animals overrun you,” he told reporters. “And we will not be spending millions and millions of dollars relocating them.”

The feral horse management plan states that some horses will be removed through passive trapping and rehoming, particularly in more accessible areas like Barmah national park.

Daniel Andrews

But it says that the difficulty of trapping horses in remote areas of the eastern alps, combined with a shortage of people with the knowledge and capacity to train wild horses, meant it was “unlikely that capture and rehoming will contribute significantly to the required reduction in feral horse populations in the eastern Alps”.

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Where rehoming cannot occur, it says, shooting either from the ground or aerial shooting will be considered.

Pickering says that despite the rehoming policy, the government “defaults to shooting”. She also denied that the science is settled on the damage feral horses cause to Australian ecosystems.

Wednesday’s protest also coincided with the state opposition announcing it would ban the culling of feral horses from focusing on “rehoming and veterinary intervention,” a proposal that both animal welfare advocates and environmentalists say would not be able to handle the volume of horses that need to be removed from national parks.

The stance echoes a move 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 signed off on a plan to reduce wild horse numbers from more than 14,000 to 3,000, which conservationists said was still too high.

Victorian opposition leader Matthew Guy said ending culling was humane and sensible.

“This is not a new issue; this is going back to the Man from Snowy River and beyond,” he said. “We can re-school, rehome 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 about 200 a year, allowing retrainers to keep up. Other population controls should be conducted via the use of fertility control drugs.

Parks Victoria and the RSPCA say that fertility control drugs are not feasible for a large and diverse feral horse population, particularly as they need to be re-administered after a few years.

Matt Ruchel from the Victorian National Parks Association said there was a world of difference between rehoming a greyhound, a low-energy dog bred by humans, to the knowledge and facilities required to re-train and rehome a feral horse.

“We don’t rehome wild dogs,” Rachel said.

Rachel said the Coalition’s policy was “disappointing” and that controlling feral horse numbers required a mix of approaches, including both rehoming and culling.

“There is simply not the demand [for rehomed brumbies] to control the numbers effectively,” he said.

Ruchel said calls by pro-brumby advocates for more research to determine the effects of feral horses on national parks was “just a delaying tactic”.

“There are decades of science highlighting this problem,” he said.

Mhairi Roberts from RSPCA Victoria said there were circumstances in which skilled marksmen shooting was “more humane than other options”.

She said wild horses were very stressed by some capture methods and the process of being transported to rehomers, and thousands of non-feral horses in Victoria also required homes.

“We are seeing high numbers of animal cruelty reports relating to horses, most related to neglect,” she said. “Based on those reports, we think the market is saturated already. We don’t think there would be enough homes in the state for many feral horses.”

Bella E. McMahon
I am a freelance writer who started blogging in college. I am fascinated by human nature, politics, culture, technology, and pop culture. In addition to my writing, I enjoy exploring new places, trying out new things, and engaging in conversations with new people. Some of my favorite hobbies are reading, playing music, making crafts, writing, traveling, and spending time with my family.