Australia: Over 5,000 feral horses culled in Kosciuszko national park

Since the recommencement of aerial shooting in Kosciuszko National Park, more than 5,000 feral horses have been culled, with the NSW environment minister, Penny Sharpe, citing this as evidence of the necessity to manage the threat these animals pose to the alpine wilderness. Conservationists have noted that for the first time, the number of horses removed from the park exceeds the annual growth in horse populations, suggesting that significant strides are being made in addressing a major threat to the ecosystem.

Data released by the Minns government shows that 5,539 horses have been killed since aerial shooting resumed late last year. Additionally, 427 horses have been removed through other methods, such as trapping, rehoming, and ground shooting, since the last population survey in October, which estimated the number of feral horses in the park at around 17,000.

“The numbers speak for themselves. There have been simply too many wild horses in Kosciuszko National Park,” Sharpe said. “The NSW government is delivering on its commitment to protect and restore our environment, and I am sure we will soon see the benefits for our native plants and animals as well as our precious alpine ecosystem.”

This data was presented to a state upper house inquiry into feral horse management amid ongoing debates about the best approaches, with some politicians opposing aerial shooting. NSW law mandates the reduction of feral horses in the park to 3,000 by 2027. According to the new figures, 8,505 horses have been removed since November 2021, with most of these removals occurring in the past seven months due to the aerial shooting program.

Jack Gough, advocacy director of the Invasive Species Council, stated that the council’s analysis of government data indicates more horses have been removed in the past 11 months than in the previous 21 years combined. “For the first time, the number removed exceeds annual population growth, meaning we can expect a genuine reduction in the number of feral horses in the national park,” Gough said. He acknowledged the difficult choice between reducing feral horse numbers and preventing the destruction of sensitive alpine ecosystems and the decline of native species.

Gary Dunnett, the chief executive of the National Parks Association of NSW, emphasized that years of delays and inaction have necessitated the killing of thousands more feral horses as their population grew unchecked. Last year, the federal threatened species scientific committee warned that feral horses could be the “crucial factor that causes final extinction” of six critically endangered animals and at least two critically endangered plants, necessitating urgent action.

During this week’s parliamentary hearing, Sharpe highlighted the threat by showing a poster of the broad-toothed rat, a species now classified as endangered due to large population declines. Habitat destruction caused by horses is a key threat to this species, along with fire and climate change.

Jacqui Mumford, the chief executive of the Nature Conservation Council of NSW, expressed optimism about the improved feral horse control measures, stating that they “give our precious alpine ecosystems a chance to bounce back.” She noted that feral horses in Kosciuszko National Park have pushed dozens of threatened flora and fauna species to the brink, including the corroboree frog, the broad-toothed rat, and rare alpine orchids.

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