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NSW national parks need to lift ban on aerial shooting of feral horses, environment group says

Posted 29/10/2020

There are calls to reverse the ban on aerial shooting of feral horses in NSW national parks.(Supplied: Russell Kilbey)

An environmental group wants to reintroduce aerial shooting in national parks in NSW, 20 years after the last horse was shot.

In October 2000, three professional shooters culled 606 feral horses in the Guy Fawkes River National Park in northern NSW.

A blanket ban on aerial culling was put in place after it was confirmed at least one horse did not die straight away.

"I think that's the thing that we don't want to happen again," the Invasive Species Council, chief executive, Andrew Cox said.

The council was seeking a review of the ban because they said the alternative method of trapping and removing feral horses was not working.

"The ban is actually a failure," Mr Cox said.

Thousands of feral animals have been culled from Kakadu National Park in 2017.(Supplied: Parks Australia)

"Allowing horse numbers to keep growing is not good for the national parks … and with aerial shooting there are ways to make sure that it is quick and the animal welfare issues are addressed."

'Only method' to stop population

Mr Cox said the RSPCA had endorsed aerial culling after supervising trials of the method in the Northern Territory and Western Australia of both feral horses and camels.

He said working with "expert marksmen" would make sure the operation was more efficient and quick.

"In the long run it will stop the suffering of native animals and stop the suffering of starving horses," Mr Cox said.

He said it would also stop "national parks being overrun by feral horses, which is exactly what our national parks are not set up for".

Mr Cox said culling was humane and a "very useful method for reducing the horse population, which [expands] between 10 and 20 per cent a year".

"It's the only method that's going to stop the population growing because trapping has proven over the past 20 years not to keep up with those breeding rates," Mr Cox said.

Brumbies are in poor condition as they struggle to find food in some areas of Guy Fawkes National Park. (Supplied: Guy Fawkes Heritage Horse Foundation)

Aerial shooting is not being considered

A National Parks and Wildlife Service spokesman said a survey of wild horses in Guy Fawkes River National Park was underway and would guide control efforts, but aerial shooting was not being considered.

"Horses are removed utilising passive trapping under the Guy Fawkes River National Park Horse Management Plan 2006," he said.

"Nearly 1,100 horses have been removed from the park since 2004."

Trapping 'not working'

Mr Cox said the ban on aerial culling had been a failure for 11 NSW national parks with feral horse populations.

"Kosciusko National Park now has 20,000 horses and, in some open plains, scenes resemble an equine Jurassic Park — herds of feral horses visible in all directions," he said.

Mr Cox said most parks in NSW, in particular the larger ones, were remote and inaccessible.

"There are few roads — it's just impractical regardless of how many resources you have to trap in some of those inaccessible locations — and the horses over time avoid the traps," he said.

'Lack of attention to trapping'

Erica Jessup is the founding member of the Guy Fawkes Historic Horse Association aimed at rescuing brumbies and training them.

Her partner was one of the guides that took the RSPCA into the park after the 2000 cull.

"He was very upset by what he saw and still is. It was inhumane what happened down there," she said.

"I know the report says that one horse was injured and didn't die immediately, but we have photographic evidence that that is not the truth.

"The years that we personally did the trapping we stayed in front of the breeding rate."

Erica Jessup (left), who runs the Guy Fawkes Heritage Horse Association, says more effort should have been made during the drought. (ABC Back Roads: Ron Ekkel)

Ms Jessup said National Parks did not put enough effort into the trapping program in the Guy Fawkes National Park.

She said NPWS should have ramped up their trapping program during the drought while the feed was short and the horses were easy to trap.

"They should have been able to catch 100 horses a week but they put no effort into it at all," Ms Jessup said.

"The reality is National Parks and Wildlife Service in NSW is not interested in passively trapping horses out of the Guy Fawkes National Park — it doesn't suit them."

Ms Jessup said in the past 12 months they had received one horse through the trapping program.

"It does upset me a bit," she said.

"We know that the horses can be removed in a safe, humane manner and on-sold to the public as a domesticated horse with that program.

"If they put as much effort into the trapping program as they do into researching aerial culling they wouldn't have any horses left in the park."


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