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Australian scientists call for ‘feral horse’ culls in alpine national park

5 brumbies gallop across alpine grasslands in Kosciuszko National Park

Feral horses known as brumbies are damaging ecosystems in Australian national parks.Credit: NGC/Alamy

Australian scientists have called for the repeal of a law that protects free-roaming horses in the country’s alpine regions.

On 8 November, 90 researchers signed a statement, called the Kosciuszko Science Accord, which demands that the New South Wales government acknowledge the “potentially irreparable damage” the horses, which are technically feral, are causing to the iconic Kosciuszko National Park in the state’s southeast. The scientists also call on the state government to repeal the legislation that protects the horses, known as brumbies.

The statement was signed at a conference on the impact of the horses, held at the Australian Academy of Science’s Shine Dome in Canberra and co-hosted by the Australian National University in Canberra and Deakin University in Melbourne. It also demands that New South Wales, Victoria and the Australian Capital Territory, whose jurisdictions cover the Australian Alps, cooperate to remove the horses through aerial culling — which is banned in New South Wales — or other effective means.

The conference heard how feral horses are damaging plants and fragile ecosystems, and affecting endangered species such as the Corroboree frog (Pseudophryne corroboree and P. pengilleyi) and the mountain pygmy possum (Burramys parvus).

Scientists estimate that there are 7,000–8,000 free-roaming horses in the Australian Alps. Although the animals cause significant environmental problems, scientists say efforts to reduce their population have been stymied by a New South Wales law passed in June 2018. The law was introduced to acknowledge the cultural and heritage significance of the animals, and effectively outlaws their culling in Kosciuszko National Park.

Passing the law was “an appalling decision that ignores 70 years of scientific research in the Alps by some of Australia’s greatest scientists”, says environmental scientist Jamie Pittock at the Australian National University, who signed the statement. “The feral-horse population in the Australian Alps is increasing dramatically and doing an enormous amount of damage.”

A spokesperson for the NSW Deputy Premier John Barilaro, who introduced the law to the parliament, said a new Wild Horse Management plan will be implemented in coming months. It aims to find a balance between humanely controlling the animal's population and preserving sensitive areas of the Kosciuszko National Park, they said. “Nobody wants to see horses shot from the sky and left dying for weeks,” they said.

doi: https://doi.org/10.1038/d41586-018-07371-4

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