Kosciuszko National Park wild horse control

National Parks and Wildlife Service is undertaking a control program for wild horses in Kosciuszko National Park.

The control program is implemented under the 2008 Kosciuszko National Park Horse Management Plan. The program utilises passive trapping and removal from the park and has occurred annually since 2002 (except for 2018 when control did not occur).

The control program adheres to relevant state and commonwealth guidelines and procedures to minimise the risk to the welfare of horses.

Bushfire recovery control program

The recent bushfires have impacted a third of Kosciusko National Park. A statewide emergency recovery plan to protect and restore wildlife populations is being implemented across parks estate. The plan includes support to wildlife carers and delivery of supplementary food and water to threatened species like the mountain pygmy possum.

To assist recovery, the plan also includes work to protect wildlife populations from pest animals. We have committed to the largest pest management program on national parks estate in NSW's history. This includes aerial shooting operations across fire-affected national parks, including Kosciuszko, targeting pigs, goats and deer, but also cats and foxes. Aerial baiting operations will also occur to target carnivorous pest animals, supplemented by trapping, shooting and ground-baiting where appropriate.

Scientific advice is that wild horses in the park will impede the post-fire recovery of vegetation and hinder the survival of native wildlife that depend on it.

While work continues on the new wild horse heritage management plan, there is a need for wild horse control as part of the Government's statewide post-fire response. The wild horse advisory panels have been consulted and have provided advice on control options.

Horse Management Areas 2020 mapThree broad areas have been prioritised for an immediate control program: these are around Nungar Plain, Cooleman Plain, Kiandra Plain and surrounding areas. These locations are all in the north of Kosciuszko National Park and were affected by bushfire. They contain threatened species and sensitive ecological communities that are most vulnerable to trampling and other horse-related impacts.

All horses will be removed from the Nungar Plain area. Horse populations will be reduced in the management areas around Cooleman and Kiandra Plains to a sustainable level. It is estimated there are up to 4000 wild horses across these 3 areas.

This immediate control program will start in the first half of 2020. It will be supported by on-ground scientific surveys to track horse demographics, assess environmental outcomes (including water and aquatic ecology), animal welfare and cultural heritage condition.

The program will use control methods developed in close consultation with both advisory panels and will be informed by animal welfare assessments. The control methods will include passive trapping and mustering into trap yards. As with previous wild horse control programs, the aim will be to rehome as many horses as possible.

Those horses that cannot be rehomed will be transported to a knackery.

Spring 2019

National Parks and Wildlife Service (NPWS) completed a control program for wild horses in Kosciuszko National Park in spring 2019. The control program targeted the Blue Waterholes campground area, where there was a need to manage interactions between the public and wild horses to support safety objectives.

Control program outcomes

  • Program dates: 15 October to 15 November 2019
  • Number of trapping days: 16
  • Horses removed: 99 (67 stallions, 24 mares, 8 yearlings and 0 foals)
  • Horses rehomed: 68
  • Horses sent to knackery: 28
  • Total deaths: 3
    • Non-trapping related deaths: 2
      • 1 mare euthanised under veterinary and RSPCA advice due to poor condition (Body Condition Score 1)
      • 1 colt euthanised under veterinary advice due to poor body condition and infected leg wound
    • Trapping related deaths: 1
      • 1 stallion died while being held in the trap yards due to a suspected head injury. No other horses were injured. Horse deaths in trap yards are a very rare occurrence in the history of the trapping and removal program.
  • Horses released: 25

Frequently asked questions

Kosciusko National Park encompasses 673,542 hectares and is New South Wales' largest national park. The park contains outstanding natural and cultural features and is the source of the Snowy, Murray and Murrumbidgee rivers.

Extensive scientific research has occurred and continues to occur into the impact of introduced animals on the park, including pigs, deer and horses. While pigs and deer are known to cause impacts, scientific evidence indicates that wild horses also cause soil compaction and loss through erosion. They damage waterways and reduce water quality through riverbank collapse, compaction and channelling. Wild horses also reduce native vegetation coverage, contributing to loss of habitat for native species such as the broad-toothed rat, and placing further pressure on a range of threatened plants and animals. As such, 'Habitat degradation and loss by Feral Horses (brumbies, wild horses), Equus caballus' is a key threatening process listed in the NSW Biodiversity Conservation Act 2016. There are known to be at least 19,000 horses in the park (based on 2019 estimates).

All other introduced animals in the park, including pigs, foxes, deer, cats, rabbits and dogs, are being controlled by separate strategic and integrated pest control programs.

Wild horses are also a risk to public safety. Multiple vehicle collisions with wild horses have been recorded on the Snowy Mountains Highway. As a result, many horses have been killed and private vehicles damaged. Wild horses are also a risk to visitor safety in park campgrounds and may cause damage to private vehicles and camping equipment. This safety issue has been exacerbated by some campground visitors feeding horses, which further encourages horses into these areas.

Until a new management plan is developed under the Kosciuszko Wild Horse Heritage Act 2018 control of horses still occurs under the 2008 Kosciuszko National Park Horse Management Plan. The 2008 plan allows us to control horses through passive trapping and removal and mustering. Trapping and removal has occurred annually since 2002 (except 2018 when no removal occurred).

The number of horses removed during a control program depends on factors such as resources, weather and access, as well as the management objectives for the area where horses are being removed.

The population of wild horses across the 3 areas prioritised during the bushfire recovery control program is estimated to be 4000 animals. While no specific target for removal has been set, all horses will be removed from the Nungar Plain management area and the population will be reduced in the Cooleman and Kiandra Plain management areas to a sustainable level.

Applications for horses can only be made to the Department for 5 horses or more.

  • If you would like to rehome 4 or fewer horses please contact the rehoming organisations or individuals who have recently collected horses from the park. As these horses may have received basic handling and training by the rehoming organisation or individual, they are often the best option for potential owners seeking to take only a small number of horses.
  • If you would like to rehome 5 or more horses, please refer to the rehoming guidelines and complete an application form. These horses are unhandled and untrained.

Read more about rehoming Kosciuszko wild horses.

Wherever possible, horses removed from the park are rehomed. Rehoming groups and individuals applying to NPWS to take horses must complete an application form which seeks to ascertain an applicant’s experience and expertise in handling and training wild horses, and the applicant must also commit to adhering to animal welfare standards. NPWS may consult with RSPCA NSW to assess applicants and inspect the horse’s new homes where deemed necessary.

The rehoming guidelines and application form have been reviewed by NPWS with advice from the Kosciuszko Wild Horse Scientific Advisory Panel to improve animal welfare outcomes for rehomed horses.

Seeking homes for horses removed from the park is a priority for our wild horse control programs. If there is insufficient demand for horses, those that cannot find a home will go to a knackery.

The knackery utilised in the control program will be independently audited to ensure it meets animal welfare standards.

The decision is based on minimising negative animal welfare impacts. Wild horses sent straight to sale yards are likely to have longer holding periods in a high-stress external environment with an unknown final outcome. Horses sent to a knackery have short holding times.

Horse Management Areas 2020 mapThe location may vary depending on the control program and management objectives. Removal can occur throughout the year in the northern end of the park when conditions are suitable. Removal generally only occurs during summer/autumn in the southern part of the park when roads are dry enough to be trafficable.

Three broad management areas in the north of the park have been prioritised during the bushfire recovery control program. These are around Nungar Plain, Cooleman Plain, Kiandra Plain and surrounding areas. All 3 areas were impacted during the summer 2019-20 bushfires.

No.

Euthanasia of horses in trap yards may be considered for much later in the program and only after advice from animal welfare experts.

Euthanasia in trap yards has better animal welfare outcomes than the transportation of animals to a knackery.

In accordance with NPWS procedures, horses that are sick or injured may be euthanised on animal welfare grounds if the horse's condition renders it unsuitable to be released or transported.

No. The lures used to coax horses into trap yards are called 'baits' by some people. Lures used are food attractants such as salt, molasses and/or lucerne hay.

We use passive trapping where horses are attracted into trap sites with food lures. Panels are slowly erected around the lures, allowing the horses to become accustomed to them. Horses enter the yards of their own accord.

Ground and aerial mustering of horses will be undertaken in 2020 as part of the bushfire recovery control program. In this method, horses are mustered into trap yards from the air or ground.

The Act recognises the cultural heritage value of wild horses in the park but also allows for their management and control to protect the environmental values of the park. The Act requires a wild horse heritage management plan to be prepared for community consultation and adoption.

It is estimated that 25% of the area known to contain horses was impacted by fire. The intensity of the fire across this area varied from severe in the Selwyn/Kiandra area to low/variable in most of the impacted areas east of the Snowy Mountains Highway and in the south of the park (around Tin Mines).

Staff euthanised 8 horses in the most severely burnt areas due to injuries thought to have been sustained as a result of fire. A number of other horse deaths were observed in the Kiandra/Selwyn areas by staff on the ground and in the air during the fires. Affected horses were predominantly young. The number of horses killed or injured during the fires appears to have been low.

Given the good body condition of horses at the time of the fires and the extensive areas still available for grazing, there is low concern for the immediate welfare of horses in the park.

An effective fertility treatment approved for use on wild horses is not currently available in Australia. It may be a few more years before an effective product is licensed and produced in commercial quantities to enable wild horse fertility control.

Science suggests that fertility control is not an effective standalone population control method and is only effective once the population has been reduced to a sustainable method by other means. It is more effective in smaller populations where horses can be identified and are accessible for continued administration of the treatment.

While fertility control will not be a viable method early in the new management program, work can start now to plan for its effective use. This can include research and in-field trials of the efficacy of fertility treatments and modes of application. The effect of fertility control on population dynamics will need to be modelled to ensure the treatments will have the desired impact for the resources expended in its implementation. The impact of fertility treatment on wild horses' social structure and behaviour in the park will also need to be investigated.