Planned Australian aerial cull to target 10,000 horses

Wild horses crowd a dry water hole.
Wild horses crowd a dry water hole, pictured in October 2012.

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 same water hole as above, in February 2013.
The same water hole as above, in February 2013.

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.

Horse carcasses around another waterhole, January 2013.
Horse carcasses around another waterhole, January 2013.

“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.

Horses dead at another water hole.
Horses dead at another water hole.

“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

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14 thoughts on “Planned Australian aerial cull to target 10,000 horses

  • May 11, 2013 at 7:23 pm

    To my understanding, life and DEATH have always been part of natures way. These horses may be dying but it is the strongest that will survive and they are the genes that need to be kept alive. Yes is it AWFUL to think they are suffering slowly but this is nature. Do you go into Africa and start culling bison because there are too many and a water hole dried up… no! Nature takes care of its own, animals fully included. Some will die and more will be born.
    If you aerial cull these horses, you are playing a poor mother nature and selecting not just the weak but a hit and miss of good genes too. Worse still is that even after and aerial cull, the suffering DOES NOT END there, many horses will die slow painful deaths from inaccurate shooting. So how is aerial culling a solution?? Let mother nature do her job and you idiots who think this is a good idea, go find a better one…

  • May 12, 2013 at 7:21 am

    I agree with the previous poster. Mother Nature is a cruel mother as anyone who has been hit by her effects knows. Animals were here long before man had the ability to control the fates of large numbers. No one likes to think of animals starving but this is indeed the way of nature. When man tries to intervene it ultimately just screws things up even more. When populations are culled traditionally you just see an unnatural rise in the birth rates. Let Mother Nature be to deal with her children as she sees fit.

  • May 12, 2013 at 7:47 am

    I am not an expert on this issue in AU but I think there has to be a more humane way to take care of this situation. I am against killing these wild horses…period.

  • May 12, 2013 at 5:59 pm

    I have to say that I’m absolutely sickened by the “Let them suffer” nature of the first two comments.
    How is letting them starve /dehydrate to death a good thing?
    Get some f***ing humanity.
    The helicopter cull is a far better way of reducing numbers than just letting them starve. Is that how you see starving children on the streets? “Well, IF they survive we’ll know that they are strong enough, so let’s just not bother to help them.”
    If the population cannot be supported it is clear that there are too many individuals. Even if there weren’t five years ago, there are now and it is horrible to think of them starving to death, or walking for days to get water only to drop dead at a dry water hole. I cannot think of anyone with any shred of compassion who would disagree that a bullet is preferable to days or weeks of painful collapse of motor function (a side effect of starvation).
    This helicopter cull just has to go ahead, it’s too late for any sort of other attempt to help those horses.

    • May 12, 2013 at 8:22 pm

      This is an utterly heart-breaking problem. If the Govt, can spend so much on culling, is there absolutely no way of trucking is fodder and water to some key areas ?? A clean kill is certainly better than a lingering death. Would it be too terrible to contemplate baiting and ambush culling ? Please let it rain !!!!

  • May 13, 2013 at 4:17 pm


    Somewhere in the outback, On the Tempe Downs Station
    A mare and colt graze calmly, Un-aware the fate awaitin
    A politician and a pen – Some number crunching done
    They found the funds to move us from this land under the sun.

    To the battleground on foreign soil, We went to join our Diggers
    Over a hundred thousand souls, I don’t know exact figures!
    We so proudly carried ANZACS – 20 stone on our backs
    We were chosen for the job – Cos we’re “Top stock” from the outback.

    A “Landrace” they call us – True Blue, bush bred,
    Valued by the stockmen “they are intelligent”, they said.

    70 hours sometimes we couldn’t even drink
    They chose us for our hardiness, endurance and I think
    They chose us well cos we are bred of natural selection
    But now we fall on our own soil – they won’t give us protection!

    Somewhere in the outback, On the Tempe Downs Station
    A mare and colt graze calmly, Un-aware their fate is waiting
    A politician and a pen – Some number crunching done
    There’s no money now to move us, so they’ll solve it “With a gun”!

    We thrived because of hardiness, endured for generations
    For the same qualities that served the soldiers of our nation
    We are destined to die again …..
    my friend……
    This time, back on Tempe station.

    In another land and another time , Enemy bullets overhead
    When I was wounded I wasn’t shipped home,
    I was patched, re-dispatched instead.

    In my own land in this time now, Aussie bullets again will rain
    10,000 Aussie battlers will face the pain again

    My Carcass filled with bullets – My body cold and Rotten
    Can you see ……The Irony?
    Lest We Forget ……Forgotten!

    Oh please….these animals are more Australian than our own Prime Minister!!! You are not doing them a favour by culling from the air. Bottom line….Inhumane method! Shame on you!

  • May 14, 2013 at 12:43 pm

    Just can’t understand why….

    Man is suppose to be so intelligent. Where is our intelligence now?
    God, how my heart just aches!

  • May 23, 2013 at 1:55 pm

    This is unhuman, monstrous, insensitive, this is NOT the way of handling the situation by killing in such coward way innocent animals that do not have any guilt on this, there are other ways of taking care of this situation, take them to other place or at least sell them but how can you shot them???? what a such coward monstrous act my God, pleaseee STOP this killing, repect these animals, they are soo precious!!!!!!!!!!!

  • November 14, 2013 at 5:30 am

    There is absolutely no need for this! if there is a child starving we give them food, if they are thirsty we give them a drink WE DON’T SHOOT THEM DO WE. So why should this change for animals. i appreciate that it will cost a lot but why not at least try to save them or they will be wiped out before we know it. just because some idiot prime minister thinks that its best and knows nothing about horses and their beauty they have to die. This doesn’t need to happen.

  • May 5, 2014 at 5:29 am

    this is outrages….this madness must stop

  • September 7, 2014 at 7:09 pm

    well mate then you go for nice little walk 50km into the bush carrying a bucket full of water and some hay the horses won’t run because there scared, they might even come give ya a hug and say thanks!!

  • August 5, 2016 at 3:47 pm

    Nothing should be terrified, in fear by aerial murder. That is so inhumane. Use your brains.


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