An aerial cull is reported to be under way in the central Kimberley area of Western Australia, targeting horses on the Lake Gregory and Billiluna pastoral stations.
The Aboriginal Lands Trust, which administers the stations, has ordered the cull.
The trust estimates there are 6000 horses in the area, and says numbers must be reduced to protect the local environment and to mitigate animal welfare and public health issues.
Trust chairman told the ABC that veterinarians were on site and he understood two helicopters would be used.
“We’ve just tried to make sure that we’ve followed to the letter the exact requirements for best-practice aerial culling which we believe, and we’ve been told by a variety of experts, is the most humane way of dealing with the feral horse population.”
Libby Lovegrove, from the group Wild Horses Kimberley, has described aerial culling as 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.