An animal welfare study has been conducted in Australia by two veterinarians to assess whether aerial culling is a humane method to reduce wild horse numbers.
The veterinarians used a May cull of 3500 brumbies in inland Australia for the study. The animals were shot from two helicopters over five days at Tempe Downs station, about 300 kilometres southwest of Alice Springs.
Sam Rando, from the Central Land Council, which ordered the cull, said the vets assessed the shooting of over 2000 horses, and performed autopsies on about 100 to complete the study.
Australian broadcaster ABC reported Rando as saying: “The average time to death was eight seconds and 58 percent of those 2000-odd horses died instantaneously.
“They also measured the pursuit time – that’s the time that the horses respond to the distant sound of helicopters approaching them – and the average time was 73 seconds.”
Rando said 97 percent of the animals were shot in one of the three target areas – the cranium, thorax and neck.
The vets, he said, reported a zero wounding rate – in which the animals were shot but survived.
The study was undertaken in collaboration with the Northern Territory Parks and Wildlife Commission and a Melbourne-based ecological business at a cost of about $A40 a head, the ABC reported.
The Central Land Council is a statutory authority covering an area of 750,000 square kilometres in the southern half of the Northern Territory.
Tempe Downs Station is part of the huge area under the jurisdiction of the council, comprising 90 Aboriginal people elected from communities in the southern half of the state.
The council’s director, David Ross, argued that culls were necessary on humanitarian and environmental grounds, and before the aerial operation had 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 at the time.
“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.
Horse groups 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 garnered 24,000 supporters.
“Horses have played a vital role in Australia’s exploration, survival and development and are an essential element of the Australian Heritage,” she said.
“The WHSA argues that wild horses have a historical validity in Australia.
Jennings said it was accepted that a percentage of Tempe Downs horses needed to be culled due to excessive numbers, age and injury. “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.”