A cull in inland Australia targeting up to 10,000 wild horses is reportedly under way.
It was organised by the Central Land Council, a statutory authority covering an area of 750,000 square kilometres in the southern half of the Northern Territory.
The horses at the centre of the cull are in the area of Tempe Downs Station, part of the huge area under the jurisdiction of the council, comprising 90 Aboriginal people elected from communities in the southern half of the Northern Territory.
The Australian Broadcasting Corporation reported that the cull has started.
The council’s director, David Ross, argued earlier this month that culls were necessary on humanitarian and environmental grounds, and earlier in the month 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.
“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.
The council has issued a public health and safety warning to keep people clear of the area, about 300 kilometres southwest of Alice Springs.
The cull will involve four helicopters carrying marksmen and is expected to continue until mid-June.
Horse groups have condemned the cull, including the Waler Horse Society of Australia (WHSA).
The Waler is a versatile and hardy breed of riding horse developed from horses brought to the Australian colonies in the 19th century.
Many of the horses around Tempe Downs are descended from Waler stock.
President Elizabeth Jennings launched an online petition opposing the cull, which at the time of writing had 8023 supporters.
Jennings, explaining the society’s opposition, 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, she 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.
“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.”
Earlier report: Planned Australian aerial cull to target 10,000 horses