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Fears raised over fate of 7600 brumbies

March 16, 2010

Brumbies in the Kosciuszko National Park

Brumby supporters in Australia have raised fears over the fate of an estimated 7600 wild horses in an iconic national park, after a report warned of rapidly rising numbers.

A government-funded study of brumby numbers in the Greater Alpine National Park, which includes both the Alpine National park in Victoria and the Kosciuszko National Park in New South Wales, concludes there are some 7700 brumbies over about 2.6 million acres.

The figure is considered accurate only within 25 per cent.

Brumby supporters fear that if the general public begins to view the animals as pests, authorities may be encouraged to use aerial shooting of horses to reduce numbers.

Management of Victoria's Alpine National Park brumby population is primarily done by "brumby running", where horses are roped from horseback and forced back to a central location where they are collected, sometimes days later.

The RSPCA has condemned practice as inhumane and Parks Victoria itself admits it is inefficient. Yet it still uses it as its primary method.

Statistics provided by Parks Victoria indicate that only 0.43 brumbies are caught for each day of human effort.

Colleen O'Brien, president of the Victorian Brumby Association, says: "Other options of population control need to be investigated thoroughly in order to manage the brumbies throughout Victoria and New South Wales effectively and humanely within RSPCA guidelines.

"Fertility control has been used effectively in the USA for more than 20 years to manage populations of wild mustangs, yet there has never been a trial in Australia."

The Australian Brumby Alliance recently hosted a seminar about fertility control, which was attended by rescue organisations, the RSPCA and some parks associations.

"There is a need for this method to be trialed in Australia to assess its potential to assist our wild Brumbies," O'Brien says.

"The Victoria Brumby Association is genuinely frightened for our brumbies and fear that if the Parks Associations can encourage people to see the current brumby population and forecast figures as a problem, could win public support for employing methods other than the RSPCA-approved ones of passive trapping and fertility control."

"We really need the Australian public to have the full picture on this issue."

The Kosciuszko National Park is run as two distinct units. The Northern unit has an excellent, humane passive trapping programme which is very well conducted.

Between June 2009 and mid Jan 2010, 197 brumbies were removed under this programme with minimum manpower and expense.

The Victorian Brumby Association had access to many of these brumbies and works to re-home as many as possible.

"Obviously, this simply is not possible with such high numbers removed, however, and many go to the knackery for dog food," O'Brien says.

The Victoria Brumby Association estimates an additional 200 horses a year are removed from the southern part of the park, and that a majority have been processed for dog meat.

It would not be possible for park management to remove 1500 brumbies per year - the estimated population growth - under the current management model and there is currently no market for those numbers of Brumbies after their removal.

The association can take only 50 or so Brumbies a year.

Wild populations of brumbies in Australia have been either mismanaged or not managed at all for more than 100 years, O'Brien says.

Numbers need to be responsibly managed, but there is no "quick fix", she says. Methods such as aerial have been used and are currently in use in some areas of Australia.

Apart from being inhumane and cruel, they are knee-jerk reactions to a larger problem that contain no long-term solution, O'Brien says.

Setting aside regions where brumbies can be humanely managed in the wild would ensure that future generations of Australians will have the opportunity to see Brumbies running free, she says.



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