Tracking the wild horse population

National Parks and Wildlife Service undertakes a range of monitoring to inform the sustainable management of wild horses in Kosciuszko National Park.

Counting every horse is not possible in a landscape that is as large, remote and rugged as Kosciuszko National Park. As a result, monitoring is undertaken at different scales using a range of globally recognised scientific methods to answer questions about population numbers, wild horse density, population trends and to help quantify the impact of wild horses on environmental and cultural values.

2020 spring Kosciuszko National Park wild horse survey

Following community feedback and concerns about the impacts of the 2019-20 bushfires, a new population survey of wild horses was undertaken in spring 2020 that is specific to Kosciuszko National Park.

The 2020 survey was specially designed to estimate the number of wild horses within Kosciuszko National Park only. The previous 2019 survey was designed to estimate the horse population across the Australian Alps including national parks and reserves, neighbouring state forest and adjacent areas in Victoria.

The spring 2020 survey report found the best estimate for the wild horse population in Kosciuszko National Park is 14,380.

The 95% confidence interval of the survey is 8798–22,555. This means that we can be very confident that the population is at least 8798 and could be up to 22,555 wild horses. Providing a 95% confidence interval is crucial to good evidence-based research and reflects the integrity of the survey results.

Survey methodology, design and analysis

Survey of the wild horse populations in the Kosciuszko National ParkLike the previous, larger-scale Australian Alps surveys, the spring 2020 survey is not a count of every horse in the park. That is not possible in an area this vast. The survey methodology utilised in both the 2019 and 2020 surveys is the international and Australian standard for population surveys of large animals from the air.

The survey has also been peer-reviewed by experts at the CSIRO and the Queensland Department of Agriculture and Fisheries.

The difference between the 2019 estimate for Kosciuszko National Park (19,000 horses) and the 2020 estimate (14,000 horses) are likely due to:

  • changes in the survey design to focus on Kosciuszko National Park
  • the inherent variability when estimating populations over such large areas
  • the impact of drought, fire and the movement of horses in and out of the national park.

The estimate of wild horses in Kosciuszko National Park is calculated based on statistical analysis of actual observations in 4 survey blocks. This means that if an area of the park was not surveyed, then it was assumed to have zero horses and did not contribute to the overall estimate.

At an estimated 14,000 animals, the population of wild horses in the national park remains significant, despite recent periods of severe drought and extreme bushfires.

A Wild Horse Heritage Management Plan is being prepared, with community and scientific input and taking into account the results of the spring 2020 survey, to guide the future control of horses in the park. A draft plan will be released in the first quarter of 2021 for public comment.

2019 Australian Alps feral horse aerial survey

This 5-yearly survey is an initiative of the Australian Alps National Parks Cooperative Management Program, and involves National Parks and Wildlife Service, ACT Parks and Conservation Service and Parks Victoria. Surveys have been undertaken in 2001, 2003, 2009, 2014 and 2019. The survey aims to produce an estimate of the wild horse population across Alps reserves and state forest in New South Wales and Victoria.

More information and the survey results are available on the Australian Alps National Parks website.