A group responsible for a vast swathe of land in northern Australia says a planned aerial cull of 10,000 wild horses is needed as the animals are dying in their thousands from a lack of food and water.
Warning: graphic images
The Central Land Council (CLC), a statutory authority covering an area of 750,000 square kilometres in the southern half of the Northern Territory, was moved to comment following the posting of an online petition which seeks to halt the aerial cull.
The petition, which had nearly 4000 signatures at the time of writing, describes aerial culling as an inhumane approach to population control of wild horses, and suggests there could be unintended undesirable ecological consequences from large numbers of rotting horse carcasses that could lead to a rise in the population of wild dogs, dingos, foxes and cats. They, in turn, could pose additional risks to commercial livestock and more vulnerable native species.
The petition was posted on behalf of the Waler Horse Society of Australia (WHSA) by its president, Elizabeth Jennings. The Waler is a versatile and hardy breed of riding horse developed from horses brought to the Australian colonies in the 19th century.
However, the CLC’s director, David Ross, argued that culls were necessary on humanitarian and environmental grounds, and released images showing the dire situation at water sources.
“We have an enormous problem with feral animals – horses, donkeys, and camels which are degrading the country and dying in their thousands due to lack of food and water,” he said.
“”The destruction of waterholes in particular has a profound effect on native animals.
“We want to undertake an aerial cull of horses on one particular area where there are about 10,000 feral horses suffering terrible and slow deaths and destroying the country for years to come.
“The damage is catastrophic. There is no motive to decrease their numbers due to competition with pastoral activities because they are on unstocked Aboriginal land.
“The areas we deal with are remote and vast – thousands of square kilometres – with no infrastructure such as yards and little access in the way of roads,” he said.
Mustering the horses into temporary yards and trucking them off to the nearest abattoir 1500km away in South Australia was not a practical or satisfactory solution except in rare circumstances, he said. In addition, there was little in the way of a viable market for horses.
“We are extremely concerned about animal welfare and wish to carry out any operations in the most humane way possible.
“Nobody wants to see suffering, especially the traditional owners of the land who love the horses but are well aware of the terrible consequences of out of control populations. Aerial culling has been chosen as the most humane and effective way of dealing with these types of feral animals.
“We also understand it’s a complex issue and quite challenging for many people who oppose animal cruelty, but I think most people don’t fully understand the circumstances and environment we are in.
“We have heartbreaking footage and stills taken by our motion-sensor cameras of these horses dying and suffering in terrible circumstances.”
The horses at the centre of the planned cull are in the area of Tempe Downs Station, part of the huge area of land under the jurisdiction of the council, comprising 90 Aboriginal people elected from communities in the southern half of the Northern Territory.
Jennings, explaining the reasons for the petition in the online supporting material, said aerial culling had previously been shown to leave a proportion of horses suffering due to non-fatal wounding. There were difficulties in killing humanely when firing from a moving vehicle, he said.
“Horses have played a vital role in Australia’s exploration, survival and development and are an essential element of the Australian Heritage.
“The WHSA argues that wild horses have a historical validity in Australia.
“The WHSA was founded to preserve and promote the Waler horse and came into existence in 1986 following the infamous aerial cull of central Australian horses around that time and continues to source Foundation Waler stock from outback stations such as Tempe Downs.
“Tempe Downs horses are recognized as descendants of true Waler types that existed from colonial times and as a source of remounts for the army.
“A selection of horses running wild on Tempe Downs Station are believed to be part of remnant herds linked to the original horses bred for the Australian remount trade.
“These horses were exported to the British Army in India for over 100 years and used by the Australian Light Horse in the Boer War, World War 1 and World War 2, where they became known as the Waler and gained the reputation as one of the finest cavalry horses in the World.
“Numbers of horses captured and relocated from Tempe Downs have been accepted for Foundation Registration with the WHSA.
“These horses continue to survive, if not thrive, on the natural outback vegetation and with natural selection over many years, and as such possess highly desirable equine genotypic attributes of hardiness and survivability that it is so important to preserve.
“The WHSA recognises that large populations of wild horse impact on the natural environment and agree population management and selective culling is necessary.
“It is accepted that a percentage of Tempe Downs horses would need to be culled due to excessive numbers, age and injury,” Jennings said. “However, we believe it is necessary to adopt a range of population management strategies which have long-term sustainability and offer ongoing population management in preference to intermittent aerial culling.
“The WHSA proposes that Government funding be directed into the development and implementation of sustainable long-term population management strategies,” Jennings said.
These should include training programs for the traditional owners to effectively manage the horse population, the development of infrastructure such as fencing around key water sources and holding yards facilities, an annual muster of horses for selective culling to bring the horse population into a more sustainable number and reduce the impact on the natural environment, ongoing trapping of horses on water sources, identification of commercial opportunities for captured horses, and, ultimately, facilitate the selection of horses for training, rehabilitation and rehoming.
Jennings continued: “Sources indicate the estimated costs of the aerial cull will be between $A200 to $A400 per head, which indicates the total cost of the cull would be in the vicinity of $A2m to $A4m (based on the estimated slaughter of 10,000 horses).
“These Waler horses are a living tribute to our pioneering heritage. The WHSA believes Government funding used for aerial culling would be far better directed into the development and implementation of sustainable long-term population management practices.”
Footnote: The original version of this story incorrectly identified the individual posting the petition on behalf of the Waler Horse Society of the Society. It was posted by the society’s president, Elizabeth Jennings. The society is petitioning Maurie Ryan as chairman of the Central Land Council