Around 14,000 feral horses roaming the plains of Australia are due to be culled by shooting them from helicopters.
An estimated 17,432 feral horses, known to Australian locals as “brumbies,” are loose in Kosciuszko National Park, a 2,600-square mile national park in southeastern New South Wales (NSW).
To achieve a reduction of these numbers to 3,000 by June 2027, as is required by law, aerial culling has now been introduced into the management repertoire, allowing for the horses to be shot from helicopters.
These horses are considered an invasive species in Australia, numbering up to 400,000 across the whole country. They descend from horses brought over by European settlers. They pose a threat to local ecological systems due to their grazing and trampling of the ground and native plant species, particularly in the Australian Alps, according to the Invasive Species Council, which aims to “seek stronger laws, policies and programs to protect nature from harmful pests, weeds and diseases.”
In Kosciuszko National Park, there were an estimated 14,501 and 23,535 horses in 2022, according to a NSW National Parks and Wildlife Service survey, with that number being revised to between 12,934 and 22,536 in the 2023 survey. In 2016, there were around 6,000 in the park.
Other methods have been used to reduce the numbers of these horses for years, including trapping, rehoming, tranquilizing and ground shooting, but these have not been successful at making much of a dent in the population. Trapping in particular was considered expensive and inhumane, as the horses ended up being transported long distances and ending up in slaughterhouses.
Now, the government hopes that aerial shooting from helicopters will help to reduce the brumby population significantly.
“The survey results indicate it will not be possible for the NSW government to meet the mid-2027 deadline of 3,000 horses under the current trajectory without aerial shooting,” a statement from the NSW government said.
Some 270 horses were shot over two days in a preliminary aerial shooting program that took place in November. In 2019/20, 99 horses were removed via trapping, and 787 in 2020/21.
During the aerial shooting program, two helicopters were used, each containing a veterinarian. According to the government statement, there were “no adverse animal welfare events” and “no horses were non-fatally wounded,” meaning that the horses died quickly with little suffering.
All the shot horses were assessed by vets from helicopters, the statement explained, and 43 were inspected by vets on the ground.
“This reduction of the feral horse population has occurred despite very good seasonal conditions in recent years which would normally have led to a population explosion,” Jack Gough, an advocacy director at the Invasive Species Council, told local news outlet Sydney Morning Herald. “No one likes to see animals killed, but the sad reality is that we have a choice to make between urgently reducing the numbers of feral horses or accepting the destruction of sensitive alpine ecosystems and habitats, and the decline and extinction of native animals.”
“We may not like it, but culling by highly trained professionals is the only viable way of reducing numbers and saving the national park and our native animals that live there.”
The locals appear to echo that statement, local news ABC South East NSW reported, with the NSW government having received over 11,000 community submissions regarding the new tactic, of which a large majority supported reintroduction of aerial shooting.
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This article by Jess Thomson was first published by Newsweek on6 December 2023. Lead Image: Stock image of wild horses in Australia. Over 14,000 feral horses are to be culled in a national park, with the aid of helicopter shootings. ISTOCK / GETTY IMAGES PLUS.