NSW Government allows aerial shooting to reduce wild horse population in Kosciuszko National Park
The NSW Government has adopted an amendment to the Kosciuszko National Park Wild Horse Heritage Management Plan which authorises aerial shooting as an additional control method to reduce the number of wild horses in the park. The change is essential to protecting the park's threatened native wildlife and ecosystems.
The amendment allows the NSW National Parks and Wildlife Service to use aerial shooting in addition to existing control methods – such as ground shooting, and trapping and rehoming – to reach the legally-required wild horse population target of 3,000 by mid-2027.
The proposal to amend the plan was put on exhibition for community input and attracted 11,002 submissions. Advice from the Wild Horse Community Advisory Panel and National Parks and Wildlife Advisory Council was also considered.
Of the submissions which commented on aerial shooting, 82% expressed support for the control method being included in the plan.
Following careful consideration of submissions, Minister for the Environment Penny Sharpe has determined the amendment is necessary to help save endangered and vulnerable species and their habitat, protect soil and waterways and conserve cultural heritage.
The Minister noted the Senate Environment and Communications References Committee Report which found effective control of wild horses could be the difference between survival and extinction for up to a dozen threatened species found only in the Australian Alps.
As part of the decision, the NSW Government is releasing a summary of submissions. The review of environmental factors and a carcass management plan will be finalised and released. The 2023 population survey undertaken in October will be peer-reviewed and made publicly available.
The NSW National Parks and Wildlife Service will undertake a short, preliminary program that will refine the standard operating procedure for aerial shooting in Kosciuszko National Park. The preliminary program has been developed with input from an independent wildlife veterinarian and RSPCA NSW, which will observe and evaluate.
NSW National Parks and Wildlife Service staff are highly trained and undergo rigorous testing to be approved to carry out aerial shooting on a range of invasive species, including deer and pigs.
Quote attributable to Minister for the Environment Penny Sharpe:
"There are simply too many wild horses in Kosciuszko National Park. Threatened native species are in danger of extinction and the entire ecosystem is under threat. We must take action.
"I want to make sure our National Parks staff have all the options they need to reach the population target and protect this precious alpine environment.
"This was not an easy decision. No one wants to have to kill wild horses. I have carefully considered all the options, and I thank everyone who took the time to make a submission.
"Aerial shooting, when carried out by highly trained personnel in accordance with rigorous standards, delivers the best possible animal welfare outcomes.
"I know this decision will upset some members of the community. I empathise with those who feel distressed that we must undertake control programs. My commitment is that I will always be open and honest with the community about these matters, without risking safety to visitors and staff."
The summary of representations is available here: Summary of representations
The need to reduce wild horse numbers
In 2018, the NSW Threatened Species Scientific Committee determined habitat degradation and loss by feral horses as a key threatening process, identifying more than 30 adversely affected New South Wales and Commonwealth-listed threatened species and communities.
These include the critically endangered southern and northern corroboree frogs, the endangered Alpine she-oak skink, the vulnerable broad-toothed rat, the critically endangered blue-tongued greenhood, and the critically endangered fish stocky galaxias. Soil, waterways and limestone caves are also under threat.
Photographs of threatened species are available on request.
The wild horse population
The November 2022 survey of wild horses in Kosciuszko National Park showed an estimated population of 18,814, with a 95% confidence interval of 14,501 to 23,535 wild horses.
The 2023 population survey conducted during October will be peer-reviewed and results will be made publicly available as soon as possible.
The proposed amendment to the plan was shared with the community for input, and 11,002 submissions were made by individuals and organisations between 8 August and 11 September 2023.
Eighty-seven per cent of all submissions commented on aerial shooting. Of these, 82% expressed support for aerial shooting being included in the plan. The most frequently raised reasons in support of aerial shooting were:
- inadequacy of existing control methods
- acceptability of animal welfare outcomes
- accuracy of population estimates
- safety of aerial shooting
For those opposed to aerial shooting, the most common points raised were related to concerns around animal welfare and the accuracy of wild horse population counts.
Authorised control methods for future management of wild horses under the plan
- Mustering or passive trapping, followed by rehoming.
- Mustering or passive trapping, followed by transporting to a knackery or abattoir.
- Ground shooting.
- Shooting or euthanising in trap yards.
- Aerial shooting (additional method now added).
Preliminary aerial shooting program
There will be a preliminary program using aerial shooting as a control method. It has been developed in consultation with an independent wildlife veterinarian and RSPCA NSW.
After the preliminary program and with full consideration of independent animal welfare advice a standard operating procedure will be finalised. It will be followed in any future wild horse aerial shooting programs and remain under ongoing review.
Relevant areas of Kosciuszko National Park will be closed when aerial shooting occurs.
The safety of the community and staff is and will always be primary considerations for any shooting operations.
National Parks and Wildlife Service will continue to take a zero-tolerance approach to threats against its staff.
A carcass management plan is being prepared taking account of issues raised by stakeholders and an environmental assessment, and in consultation with the Environment Protection Authority. The plan will be subject to ongoing refinement, as required.
Carcasses will not be left in or close to major waterways or within 400 metres of busy visitor areas such as campgrounds. Carcasses will be moved if necessary to meet the requirements of the carcass management plan.
Protecting the heritage value of wild horses
The plan requires 3,000 wild horses to be retained in 32% of the park to protect their heritage value. The proposed amendment to the plan does not change this requirement. Horse riding will continue in Kosciuszko National Park.