Environmental issues

Pests and weeds

Kosciuszko National Park Draft Wild Horse Management Plan: questions and answers

1. Why does NPWS think wild horses are such a problem and want to reduce their numbers and impacts?

It's the impact from the current number of wild horses that are the problem.

NPWS acknowledges the cultural and social values held by many people in the community for wild horses in the park and proposes that a small population will always remain in Kosciuszko National Park as part of that acknowledgement. Ideally we'd like to see the population reduced to about 600 in the next 20 years.

Current numbers are damaging the fragile alpine and subalpine environments and unless we take action now, this damage will continue and could be irreversible.

Wild horses are introduced animals. The ecosystems of the Snowy Mountains are under significant and increasing pressure from a suite of introduced plants and animal species, including horses. NPWS has plans and control programs in place for these other introduced species. Hard hoofed animals cause significant ground and stream bank disturbance, damage to vegetation and habitat.

2. How many wild horses are in the park now?

There are estimated to be 6000 wild horses in the park at the moment.

This draft plan outlines how NPWS aims to reduce that number to 3000 in 5 to 10 years' time and eventually to around 600 in about 20 years' time.

3. How confident are you in these numbers?

Very confident. An aerial survey was commissioned and the final report confirm these figures.

4. How will NPWS remove the wild horses?

There are a range of humane and cost effective control methods proposed in the draft plan and the decision to use some or all will be taken to suit particular circumstances using the best available information at the time.

It's expected that different methods will be selected at different times depending on seasonal factors, location of the horses and population size.

Proposed control methods are:

  • trapping and rehoming
  • trapping and transport to abattoir
  • trapping then culling at the trap site
  • aerial and ground mustering for rehoming
  • aerial and ground mustering for transport to abattoir
  • aerial and ground mustering then culling at muster site
  • ground shooting
  • fertility control (in the longer term when populations are reduced)
  • fencing.

5. Is aerial shooting being or proposed to be used?

No, aerial shooting is not proposed as a control method within the draft plan. The Independent Technical Reference Group examined and assessed aerial shooting as part of the relative humaneness assessment process for all available control methods and found that it is both a humane and effective control method in certain situations and conditions. The NSW government has ruled out the use of aerial shooting within the draft plan due to lack of stakeholder acceptance for the control method.

Although aerial shooting is humanely and effectively used as a control method for other species such as deer, pigs, and goats, aerial shooting of wild horses has never been undertaken within Kosciuszko National Park.

6. Why is the use of traditional methods of 'brumby' running or roping as a control method not proposed within the draft plan?

As part of the Independent Technical Reference Group relative humaneness assessment process of control methods, they confirmed that the traditional practice of 'brumby' running or roping has one of the poorest animal welfare outcomes of the available control methods as it involves extended pursuit of a wild animal, high risk of injury and oxygen deficit or 'air hunger' through choking, placing the animal under prolonged and undue stress. For these reasons, along with lack of stakeholder acceptance and its relatively poor effectiveness as a population reduction and management method, it has been ruled out as an appropriate control method under the draft plan.

7. Why isn't fertility control being proposed within the draft plan?

It is. Fertility control is proposed for use within the draft plan in the longer term where it will then be effective. The Independent Technical Reference Group in its assessment as to the relative humaneness and effectiveness of currently available fertility control techniques found that the techniques only become viable after a reduction in population is achieved and then used to maintain the population at low numbers and densities. The application, delivery and effectiveness of currently available fertility control techniques in a situation such as Kosciuszko is still yet to be determined and requires further research.

The draft plan proposes that once the overall population has been sufficiently reduced, NPWS adopt an approach of minimal management intervention, incorporating fertility control and small-scale, non-lethal harvesting (trapping, mustering, removal and rehoming). This approach will limit population growth and also reduce or negate the need to apply lethal control methods.

8. When wild horses are shot, what happens to the carcass?

Disposing of carcasses in the park is a challenging issue. The disposal method chosen in any given situation will depend on a number of factors including the location and number of carcasses and the weather conditions at the time.

In some cases the wild horses will be shot and let lie - this is standard practise for many park and land management agencies. The draft plan also proposes the trial of a technique of static pile composting which is utilised extensively in the US for deer, elk and other wildlife road kill, minimising scavenging, environmental pollution and increasing decomposition rates.

It is also proposed to test the market to see whether carcasses can be recovered and put to use for export meat and other products.

9. Why can't the wild horses be re-homed?

They can, and where possible this will continue. As happens now, each year NPWS will put a call out to people and organisations that rehome wild horses and will work with them to supply the number of horses requested.

Between 2002 and 2015 a total of 3183 horses were trapped and removed from the park. Only 583 (18%) of these wild horses were 'rehomed' or domesticated with 2600 (82%) being sent to a knackery or abattoir for humane slaughter.

The current population estimate of wild horses is 6000 and without an appropriate and long term control program the population will increase each year by at least 6%.

10. Why can't the wild horses be used for a stock whip program - similar to the successful programs run in the US and Canada?

The purpose of this draft plan is to reduce the impact of wild horses on the values of the park through the reduction of the overall number of wild horses in Kosciuszko National Park. Current numbers are unsustainable and causing damage to the sensitive alpine and sub alpine environment. If individuals or organisations would like to rehome some of Kosciuszko's wild horses, NPWS will continue to help facilitate the transfer of horses where possible.

The stock whip program if it came to fruition would be used to rehome wild horses. While the draft plan recognises and supports the establishment of such programs it also recognises that such programs are limited by the number of horses that they can deal with and community demand as evidenced by the large numbers of wild horses in the US and Canada that are removed and dealt with via other means.

11. There are much higher populations of other pests that are doing way more damage than wild horses. Why aren't you doing something to control them?

Feral pigs, deer, goats and rabbits also impact the park. The 2014 aerial survey conducted for wild horses also surveyed for feral deer at the same time. This returned an estimate of approximately 2600 deer across the southern area of Kosciuszko National Park and Victorian Alpine National Park surveyed. Currently the only methods used for deer control is aerial shooting and ground shooting programs. Alternative and additional methods are currently being investigated to enable more effective control of deer.

A strategic approach for other pest and weed management is established within the 2012-2017 Southern Ranges Region Pest Management Strategy which can be found here: Regional Pest Management Strategy 2012-17: Southern Ranges Region (PDF 1.2MB).

The draft wild horse management plan acknowledges that other species are also of concern within the park. It proposes as an action that we integrate the wild horse management planning and operational activities with other introduced species management programs wherever possible, and in particular those for deer, pig, goat and rabbit control.

Over the last five years the NPWS pest control program for Kosciuszko National Park and the Southern Ranges region has resulted in 934 deer, 1844 pigs, 846 goats, 251 cats, 2037 foxes and 1377 wild dogs being removed from reserves across the region (through trapping and shooting programs).

In conjunction with this work, NPWS has laid 43,736 baits for wild dogs, 6734 baits for foxes, 667 kilograms of bait for pigs, 3852 kilograms of bait for rabbits and ripped or fumigated 2092 rabbit warrens across the same region.

See summary data tables below showing pest program trapping/shooting results and baiting/poisoning/ripping/fumigating effort.

NSW NPWS Southern Ranges region

Pest animal control data by species 2010–15

Shot/trappedDogsFoxesCatsRabbitsPigsGoatsDeerTrapped & Removed Horses
2014–15 220 386 86 184 239 63 269 389
2013–14 240 346 68 511 381 353 227 287
2012–13 253 327 28 601 522 144 287 587
2011–12 246 372 59 125 573 146 135 658
2010–11 418 636 11 1810 129 140 16 307
Total 1377 2067 252 3231 1844 846 934 2228
Baits Milligrams of PoisonWarrens Ripped/Fumigated
Baiting Dogs Foxes Pigs Rabbits Rabbits
2014–15 13,646 1,959 137,200mg = 457kg 100,800mg = 560kg 365
2013–14 10,324 1,186 20,940mg = 70kg 1,059mg = 176kg 1,277
2012–13 9,025 1,537 30kg + 128baits 1,176kg Not reported
2011–12 7,609 2,052 50kg + 288baits 640kg Not reported
2010–11 3,132   60kg 1,300kg Not reported
Total 43,736 6,734 667kg 3,852kg 1,642

12. Why can't NPWS sterilise wild horses as a means of population control?

Permanent sterilisation of individual horses can currently only be achieved via invasive surgical procedures such as gelding for stallions or ovariectomy for mares, both requiring horses to undergo trapping, sedation and general anaesthesia, which is difficult to achieve humanely in a field situation and at a scale for the KNP wild horse population.

Fertility control has had some limited success by delivering contraceptives in an open free range situation using dart rifles through stalking or use of hides. It has only been applied in overseas situations where herd sizes are small and accessible and the objective is to stabilise population growth rather than reduce population size.

Fertility control is therefore only a viable option where horse densities are already low and the objective is to gradually reduce or maintain the population at a low density. There are currently no fertility control methods that are feasible for the park to achieve significant population reduction, however, new advances may result in an appropriate broad-scale method being developed.

13. Why can't you move them to another park or remote area?

Moving the wild horses just moves the problem - it is not an effective way to manage the damage that wild horses and other hard hoofed animals cause to the environment.

Wild horses are introduced species - and while they have been part of the Kosciuszko landscape for more than 150 years, they are not a native species.

14. What is the proof that the wild horses are causing a problem/environmental damage?

The Independent Technical Reference Group (ITRG) concluded that the evidence of environmental harm is sufficient that wild horse populations must be managed in Kosciuszko National Park.

'The ITRG concludes that the balance of evidence indicates that wild horses are having a significant negative environmental impact on Australian alpine and sub-alpine ecosystems in Kosciuszko National Park. This is particularly true for alpine bogs, waterways and drainage lines. Any supposed positive environmental impacts are not supported by scientific evidence.'

Introduced animals, such as wild horses cause significant ground disturbance, damage to vegetation and compete with native wildlife for food and habitat.

The riverbeds, streams and natural bogs and wetlands and soil structure of these areas are becoming compromised from the impact of increasing horse populations trampling them.

The grasslands and other areas of vegetation in Kosciuszko National Park are being over-grazed by increasing horse populations.

Alpine, sub alpine and other ecosystem habitat areas which are home to significant native wildlife, are being altered and compromised by an increasing horse population.

Wild horses are also a significant public and community safety issue on the high speed roads within the park, with 26 reported vehicle/horse incidents since 2003.

The 2015 Australian Alps report details broad scale monitoring and research identifying undeniable proof that horses cause significant damage and erosion in the Alps, particularly in drainage lines. (An Assessment of Feral Horse Impacts on Treeless Drainage Lines in the Australian Alps, Australian Alps national parks Co-operative Management Program, December 2015).

There have also been many scientific studies over the last 20 plus years showing significant horse impacts to natural values in the high country.

15. Why can't the wild horses in Kosciuszko just be left alone and nature will sort itself out?

The Independent Technical Reference Group (ITRG) found that, 'While eradication from KNP is not a viable option, nor is the opposite extreme of doing nothing. The ITRG finds that wild horse populations must not be left unmanaged in KNP. There is sufficient evidence of ecological harm to require management intervention. It was also agreed by the ITRG that using an integrated range of control methods, rather than limiting control to a single method, would provide the best and most efficient opportunity for achieving population reduction and associated mitigation of impacts.'

16. Why did it take so long to get this draft plan together?

The draft plan was delayed because we wanted to cover all the issues raised during the process. We know that the current wild horse management plan (written in 2008) was not meeting its objectives and had many limitations.

Engagement and consultation with stakeholders and the community over such a complex issue which has such a broad range of viewpoints and deeply polarised positions is in itself complex and takes time. Central to the development of this draft plan has also been rigorous scientific advice provided by the Independent Technical Working Group.

This plan was developed after a thorough review of the 2008 plan, noting failings and lessons learnt.

17. Who is the Independent Technical Reference Group and what was their role?

The role of the Independent Technical Reference Group (ITRG) is to provide independent and rigorous scientific and technical advice to NPWS on the management of wild horses within Kosciuszko National Park.

The ITRG was appointed in November 2014 and comprises:

  • Dr Mark Lonsdale, Honorary Professorial Fellow, Charles Darwin University and Adjunct Senior Research Fellow, Monash University.
  • Dr Bidda Jones, Chief Scientist, RSPCA Australia, Honorary Associate, Faculty of Veterinary Science, University of Sydney.
  • Professor Geoffrey Hope, Emeritus Professor, Department of Archaeology and Natural History, School of History, Language and Culture, College of Asia and Pacific, The Australian National University.
  • Dr Sara Beavis, Senior Lecturer, Fenner School of Environment and Society, Australian National University College of Medicine, Biology and Environment.
  • Professor Elissa Cameron, Professor, Wildlife Ecology, School of Biological Sciences, University of Tasmania.
  • Professor Alan Welsh, FAA Mathematical Science Institute, Australian National University.
  • Professor Reuben Rose, Emeritus Professor, Australian veterinary educator and a former Dean of the Faculty of Veterinary Science at the University of Sydney.
  • Dr. Glen Saunders, Visiting Scientist, NSW Department of Primary Industries (Previously Director Invasive Plants & Animals, Vertebrate Pest Research, Department of Primary Industries).

18. Why does NPWS propose to reduce the numbers of wild horses in the park from the estimated 6000 down to approximately 600 horses?

The draft plan proposes to significantly reduce the wild horse population over the next 20 years to lessen the impact that is currently occurring to the environment and other park values and lower the risk to road users.

In short, the smaller the population size the less environmental impact will occur, as well as importantly reducing the ongoing animal welfare implications of having to continue to remove, rehome or cull larger numbers of horses every year if a larger population were permitted. A small population also means less resources and funding are required for long term management, and reduced safety risks such as on high speed roads through the park.

The aim is to reduce the wild horse population to a level where a combination of fertility control and non-lethal harvesting (trapping, mustering and removal from the park) better match community demand for wild horses, therefore reducing or negating the need to apply lethal control methods.

19. With a population of approximately 600 horses won't they just die out or be prone to genetic inbreeding or a natural disaster such as bushfires?

Wild horse populations would need to be maintained in their thousands to maintain genetic health, however this comes at a cost of unacceptable impact to the environment. Small wild horse populations are successfully retained in other international conservation reserve situations, such as Kaimanawa (300 horses) in New Zealand and Assateague Island (275 horses) in the USA where small wild populations in their 100's are retained. Herd health is monitored and any genetics issues are addressed through translocation and assisted immigration of new blood stock. The Kosciuszko draft plan proposes that three of four current separate geographic population areas be retained at low wild horse population densities, therefore reducing the risk of exposure to natural disaster.

20. Will visitors to the Kosciuszko National Park still be able to see and enjoy wild horses at the numbers proposed? By reducing the population aren't we losing their heritage value?

The draft plan acknowledges the presence of wild horses in the park has tourism, economic and marketing value to the Snowy Mountains region because some people visit the park with the expectation of seeing wild horses in the landscape. In contrast, many other people visit the region and the park expecting a pristine and native landscape without the intrusion of what they consider to be feral animals. This creates significant challenges for NPWS when trying to resolve or reach a solution around conflicts between the protection of natural and cultural values and acknowledging the cultural values of wild horses in the park.

The acknowledgement of the Kosciuszko National Park wild horse population as an 'attribute' associated with nationally significant cultural and social values will be achieved by permitting an overall population of approximately 600 wild horses in the longer term. The draft plan proposes zones where horses will still be able to be seen such as areas of Long Plain, Tantangara or at Cascades for example.

Page last updated: 22 July 2016