Farmers are calling for a cull of wild horses living around Lake Gregory in the Kimberley region of Western Australia.
A long-time campaigner for the horses, Libby Lovegrove, described the plan as barbaric.
The horses in the region have lived under a cloud for years, with advocates, pastoralists and state officials at odds over the best way forward in managing the animals.
The Pastoralists and Graziers Association of Western Australia is now calling for Lands Minister Brendon Grylls to immediately start an aerial cull of the horses on two pastoral leases, Lake Gregory and Billiluna, in the east Kimberley.
“The Kimberley pastoral industry is facing an economic, environmental and animal welfare catastrophe unless there is an immediate cull on feral horses at Lake Gregory,” association president Rob Gillam said.
“The high number of feral horses, which some have estimated is as high as 9000, is impacting on the biodiversity and cultural values of the Lake Gregory wetlands through overgrazing, trampling and nutrient runoff.
“And with the upcoming wet season there is a major risk of these horses being bogged and suffering a slow and agonizing death, as was the case last year when more than 100 feral horses perished on neighbouring Balgo Downs under similar circumstances.”
Gillam argued that aerial culling was the most humane way to deal with the issue.
“Previous decisions to initiate such controls were stopped through ministerial handballing following pressure from animal rights activists, many of whom may have never set foot on a pastoral station and seen the damage that these pests do.”
Gillam said Lake Gregory and Billiluna were active pastoral stations under the control of the Department of Aboriginal Affairs. As pastoral lessees, they had a legislated responsibility to control declared pests on their property, he said.
The minister in charge of the leases had to arrange an immediate aerial cull “before this situation becomes uncontrollable”.
“The pastoral industry, the environment and most importantly the horses can no longer afford to suffer through continued ministerial indifference.”
Gillam said his association supported an aerial cull by professional aerial platform shooters in accordance with strict conditions and monitoring.
However, Lovegrove, from the group Wild Horses Kimberley, told ABC that the proposal did not make sense.
“It’s just a barbaric act of cruelty.”
She said stallions could be gelded and mares treated with long-term contraceptives.
“Nobody’s tried to manage them. They’ve just let them breed up and breed up, and then they go out and shoot them. It’s just totally barbaric.”
Lovegrove has also called into question the number of wild horses in the area, telling local media the numbers described by the association were “wildly inflated”.
Lake Gregory is a 100km-wide freshwater lake formed from the Sturt Creek, which has its origins in the Northern Territory. The area is considered a wetland of national and international importance.
Advocates had hoped that preservation of the lake, as well as management of the horses, would create interest from eco-tourism companies to invest in the area, using the horses, remarkable birdlife, Walmajarri history and culture, and the lake as tourist attractions.
The wild horses include palominos, paints and cremellos; and there are Arab bloodlines.