Alpine brumby control input is sought

THE heated debate over the control of wild horses in the state’s Alpine National Park is showing no signs of cooling, with the announcement that the community engagement period for a reduction plan has been extended until February 16.

After years of consultation, the Department of Land, Water, Environment and Planning released its draft Feral Horse Strategic Action Plan 2018-2020 in December 2017.

The submission period has now been extended to give the public an additional two weeks to consider plans to raise the capture rates of horses in the eastern alps region from about 100 to 160 horses per year to 300 to 400 horses per year, and eliminate them from the Bogong High Plains, over three years.

Animals captured are expected to be domesticated and re-homed where possible, or shot on site.

There are an estimated 25,000 brumbies running wild through Victoria’s eastern alps and 60 to100 in a separate population in the Bogong High Plains area, despite the removal of about 2000 since 2004 through trapping and roping.

The animals — not native to Australia — are considered a serious threat to the survival of alpine species and their habitats, particularly because of their effect on High Country waterways and vegetation.

But the horses’ existence in the state’s sensitive alpine areas is a divisive one which draws passionate responses from both sides of the argument.

Conservation groups such as The Wilderness Society back moves to cull horses in the alps, while animal welfare organisations and brumby advocates question the humanity of interfering with the horses at all.

Although RSPCA Victoria chief executive Liz Walker has formerly been supportive of shooting control if properly employed, Victoria has shied away from aerial or ground shooting of free-ranging horses after disastrous results in New South Wales.

That state banned the practice in the wake of public anger at the poorly-handled slaughter of 600 horses in the Guy Fawkes National Park in 2000.

The brumbies were shot from helicopters, but media reports revealed some injured and maimed horses suffered slow deaths.

Brumby advocates are calling for an end to the lethal control of brumbies in national parks, and a stronger focus on passive trapping, rescue and re-homing.

Several groups, including the Australian Brumby Alliance and the Victorian Brumby Association, are involved in horse re-homing, as well as education programs to improve the knowledge of, and understanding, of wild horses.

The Australian Brumby Alliance has called for formal holding yards to be built to ensure safe transfers of horses to volunteer re-homers.

President Jill Pickering said the alliance recognised that an overabundance of any species was not good for the environment, but that the “exploding Sambar deer population” was a significant factor in alpine damage.

Ms Pickering said it was “sad” that Parks Victoria felt it could save the environment by removing brumbies.

She said that until Parks Victoria focused solely on removing Sambar deer, which weigh 300-plus kilograms, the goal of achieving a healthy alpine ecology could never be achieved.

A DELWP spokesman said that as part of drafting the plan, extensive consultation had taken place with animal welfare, community, environmental and cultural groups through a series of roundtables.

Parks Victoria chief conservation scientist Dr Mark Norman said the independent assessment report focusing on the Bogong High Plains provided evidence that feral horses were continuing to damage sensitive alpine environments and the species that inhabited them.

Key considerations of the draft plan include maximising the chances of re-homing captured horses and minimising poor welfare outcomes.

A technical reference group, including specialists in veterinary science, horse behaviour and welfare and cultural issues, has also provided specialist input.

Until February 16, the draft action plan can be viewed and feedback provided on proposed control methods, management of captured horses, communication methods and frequency during the three-year implementation period and research priorities.

Environment Minister Lily D’Ambrosio said she encouraged the community to read the draft plan and provide their feedback on the planned approach to protecting vulnerable alpine environments, “whilst operating within best practice humane guidelines for the captured horses”.

Feedback is sought in the form of a survey, but written submissions in Word or PDF documents can be uploaded.

To view the draft plan, visit www.engage.vic.gov.au.