The National Parks and Wildlife Service (NPWS) have confirmed that aerial culling is back on the table as a means of controlling the numbers of brumbies in the national parks.
It has been 13-years since shooters took to the skies in NSW at the Guy Fawkes National Park and executed 606 wild horses over a three day planned aerial cull.
The botched cull resulted in a massive negative public backlash as 255 acts of animal cruelty were identified and gruesome photographs of dying, suffering and maimed horses were splashed across newspapers nationally.
Following the slaughter, the then Minister for the Environment,ruled out the use of aerial culling again.
A large brumby action group met in the Tumut CWA rooms on Wednesday to air their objection to the shooting method, which is being considered again as part of a new NPWS Horse Management Plan for Kosciuszko National Park,.
Lynette Sutton who travelled from Berrigan to attend the meeting said as a brumby rescuer she finds the use of aerial culling unnecessary and cruel.
“You just have to look at the pictures of the aerial culling to see how cruel and inhumane it is,” Ms Sutton said. “Horse are left to bleed out, we have seen jaws shot out of horses that weren’t found until six days after they had been shot and cruelty people wouldn’t believe.
“We don’t have to have aerial culling. There are people willing to take the excess brumbies out of the parks and rehome them.
“But there is no money for this type of positive action. There is no meat market anymore at Peterborough so what will happen to the horses NPWS are still trapping?”
Calling for a legislative ban on aerial culling, the brumby action group also called upon NPWS to explain why the current management plan is not aways adhered to and why horses are suffering as a result.
In the plan it clearly states that pregnant mares and unweaned foals will not be taken from the parks yet pages later it details that in the removal process pregnant mares should be segregated.
“We have received pregnant mares and foals that should never have been taken from the park,” Ms Sutton said. “I have raised the matter with NPWS who told me they can’t be responsible for what the contractors who remove the horses do. One mare had a dead foal whilst other foals have arrived motherless.
“How can they then ensure the management plan is being followed when it contradicts itself and how do they know the horses are being treated humanly?”
Addressing Ms Sutton’s and the meetings general concern regarding how closely the management plan is followed, NPWS Murrumbidgee Area Manager, Steve Cathcart, said the plan lays out best practice guidelines and the NPWS try to take precautions not to take mares in foal.
“We don’t trap in the spring when the horses are foaling,” Mr Cathcart said. “We do not have an actual target of horses we remove so if a pregnant mare is trapped she should be let go.
“We look at the best practices we can and try to follow that. We need to continue to improve the practices. Humane treatment of the horses is an absolute priority.
“We try to re-home as many as we can.”
Mr Cathcart said despite the meat market for horses dropping away, the NPWS would be continuing the trapping program and aiming to re-house the horse where possible.
He explained that in the review of the management plan all methods of control will be open for consideration. This included aerial culling but he allayed fears amongst the group by saying that the horses would not find their way onto the list of feral animals the state government is proposing to allow hunters to shoot in some national parks.
Mr Cathcart did not face the brumby advocates alone. He was joined by NPWS Snowy River Area Manager, Pam O’Brien, who reinforced to the meeting that the humane treatment of horses was paramount.
“I will not tolerate the inhumane treatment of animals,” she said when questioned that whenever the RSPCA visits the trapping sites or contractors they are informed first and thus able to act accordingly.
“If I knew of any cruelty or of a criticism I would investigate it.”
There was no admission though by the NPWS that the the management plan was not being enforced or policed, a point that did not sit well with the gathering, many who claimed they have seen the horses that are being removed treated cruelly and lashing out through fear, hurting each other.
The topical and emotive issue of controlling the numbers of wild horses in the national parks was well discussed at the meeting with many questions from the floor aimed at the NPWS representatives.
The brumby group is planning to lodge six resolutions with the Minister for the Environment including the request for a comprehensive inquiry into current and previous horse trapping programmes carried out by the NPWS personnel and contractors.
It was suggested as part of the fifth resolution that future trapping and transporting of the horses be monitored to stamp out any animal cruelty that may occur and to ensure the horses are treated humanely.
The group’s final resolution demanded the suspension of all current trapping programmes within Kosciuszko National Park until the issue of the inhumane treatment of horses was resolved.
Alan Lanyon, who co-organised the meeting and who is leading the push for a more comprehensive and sustainable horse management plan, said he has seen what can happen to the trapped horses and apart from cases of keeping horses away from roads for public safety, is calling for the trapping to be suspended.
“We demand any horses trapped for public safety reasons be treated according to a horse welfare management plan,” Mr Lanyon said. “It needs to allow horses to be re-homed or repatriated further into the park before consideration is given to removal for destruction.”
NPWS could not comment on the resolutions, but Mr Cathcart said whilst aerial and ground shooting were not current practices, they needed to be discussed along with all the other options as the new management draft was being planned.
“If it was decided aerial culling was allowed as determined in the new plan, then it would be stated very clearly in any plan how it would be carried out,” Mr Cathcart said. “Clearly the horses are increasing in numbers and we need to manage the population as the horses are doing to damage in parts of the park.”