Kosciuszko National Park wild horse management

Stakeholder Update, October 2020: Post-bushfire control program

Post-bushfire control program

Main Range lookout, Snow Gums Boardwalk, Kosciuszko National ParkA targeted wild horse control program is underway in Kosciuszko National Park as part of the response to the summer 2019-20 bushfires.

The program is focused on controlling horses in three fire-impacted management areas. These areas cover 9% of the park. All horses are being removed from the Nungar plain area. Horse populations in the Cooleman and Kiandra areas are being reduced towards a sustainable level. The final sustainable population level in these 2 areas will be defined using the outcomes of scientific environmental impact and horse population monitoring. The program is not designed to remove all horses in these 2 areas.

The post-fire control program is based on scientific advice that the impact of wild horses will worsen the effect of the summer bushfires on the park's natural values. These impacts are likely to include:

  • increased erosion and reduced water quality in the park's fragile sub-alpine streams and bogs
  • damage to habitat and breeding areas for unique threatened species like the corroboree frog and the stocky galaxias fish, which occur nowhere else on the planet
  • concentrated grazing and trampling damage to unburnt grasslands that are providing vital post-fire habitat for threatened species like the broad-toothed rat and the alpine she-oak skink.

Removing wild horses and other introduced animals from these fire-affected areas is giving native plants, animals and ecosystems the best chance of recovery. Up to 2000 pigs, deer and goats have already been controlled in three aerial shooting programs in Kosciuszko National Park and surrounding reserves as part of post-fire management this year.

Wild horses are currently being removed using passive trapping. The priority is to rehome as many horses as possible. National Parks and Wildlife Service (NPWS) continues to engage with the RSPCA and the Kosciuszko Wild Horse Scientific Advisory Panel to ensure the highest possible animal welfare outcomes during control operations.

Rehoming

We are committed to finding suitable homes for as many horses as possible, demonstrated by a financial contribution to the first 400 kilometres of transport for rehomed horses while COVID-19 temporary movement restrictions in some states prevent private travel.

NPWS has received a good community response to rehoming and promotion of rehoming opportunities will continue throughout the control program. 92% of the horses removed so far during the post-bushfire control program have been rehomed.

Most rehomers specify preferences for the types of horses they are willing to receive. This means NPWS' ability to rehome horses depends on the type as well as the number of horses requested. If certain types of horses requested in an approved application become available, NPWS will always aim to offer those horses to the relevant rehomers in the first instance.

NPWS will only send horses to the knackery if suitable homes are not identified.

Control program outcomes

Control program outcomes* to 1 October 2020:

  • Program dates: 23 July to 1 October 2020
  • Number of trapping days: 19
  • Horses removed: 193
  • Horses rehomed: 178
  • Horses sent to knackery: 14
  • Total trapping-related deaths: 1
  • Horses released: 46
*Notes:
  • The control program is ongoing and likely to continue for the remainder of the year.
  • The weather has reduced the number of trapping days.
  • Horses are released if they do not meet NPWS current criteria for removal due to transport limitations and includes heavily pregnant mares and mares with very young foals
  • One mare 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.

Tracking the wild horse population

Having good, scientifically validated information about the wild horse population is critical to inform sustainable management. The size of the park, and its rugged and remote landscape, means it is not possible to conduct a census that would record every horse. Different techniques are therefore applied at different scales to estimate the size of the population, assess trends over time, and to examine impacts in specific locations. We use this combination of information to inform long-term planning and management decisions.

  • Alps-wide population survey – this is conducted every 5 years across lands within NSW and Victoria. The survey is led by the Australian Alps National Parks Cooperative Management Program and uses internationally recognised, best practice techniques to produce an estimate of the wild horse population across the entire Alps area at a point in time. The 2019 Australian Alps Feral Horse Aerial Survey was released in late 2019, following review by the CSIRO and international experts from St Andrews University, Scotland.
  • Park-wide population survey – In August the Minister for Energy and Environment, the Hon. Matt Kean MP, announced that a park-wide population survey will be conducted in spring 2020 to obtain an updated estimate of the number of wild horses in Kosciuszko National Park. The survey was announced after considering community feedback and concerns about the impact of the 2019-20 bushfires on the wild horse population. Minister Kean also confirmed that the post-fire wild horse control program would continue while the survey proceeds. The Kosciuszko Wild Horse Scientific Advisory Panel and the Community Advisory Panel will be engaged about the survey, which will inform the new long-term wild horse heritage management plan for the park.
  • Annual aerial wild horse counts to understand trends – in 1998, and then annually since 2008 (except for 2009 and 2015 when the surveys did not occur), NPWS has conducted aerial counts in the open plains areas in the north of the park. The last count was conducted in September 2020. These counts help to understand long-term horse population trends and distribution in this part of the park. They are not a population census or the basis for a population estimate for the survey area. The first count in 1998 observed 75 horses. In spring 2019 over 3100 wild horses were counted. in spring 2020 over 3500 horses were observed in the same area. This latest increase indicates little change to this population post-fire. Over time, the aerial counts have also identified a trend of fewer horses observed in winter compared to spring, supporting anecdotal evidence that horses tend to retreat to wooded areas in winter and are more prevalent in the open plain areas in warmer months.
  • Targeted, specific surveys to assess localised impacts – these are being undertaken as part of the current post-bushfire control program in the three identified management areas in the north of the park. These small-scale surveys will help improve understanding of the relationship between horse numbers and environmental impact.

Scientific and community advisory panels

The Kosciuszko Wild Horse Scientific Advisory Panel and the Kosciuszko Wild Horse Community Advisory Panel are finalising their reports which will provide advice to the Minister on the development of the wild horse heritage management plan.

NPWS continues to consult the panels on the post-bushfire control program.

The Minister has extended the tenure of members of both panels until 1 March 2021. Summaries of all panel meetings are available.

Wild horse heritage management plan

NPWS will prepare a draft long-term wild horse heritage management plan, taking into account advice from the Scientific Advisory Panel and the Community Advisory Panel, before the end of 2020. Public comment will be sought on the draft plan during a public exhibition period.