Feral Horse Cull Urgently Needed

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Feral horses are destroying what little threatened species habitat was spared from bushfire. Credit: Invasive Species Council 

If the governments were serious about ensuring ecosystems of the bushfire zones recovering, feral horses would have been the first on the to be culled list.

Due to a noisy feral horse supporter base, however, the government has taken horses off the list to appease minority groups. This decision jeopardises burnt vegetation's recovery with threatened species marching further towards extinction.

Hunters are in waiting, and in a short time, they would put a considerable dent in the feral horse populations at no expense to the taxpayer.

Jamie Pittock has called the governemt out with an article in The Conversation. Jamie is a professor in the Fenner School of Environment & Society at the Australian National University,  and voluntarily provides scientific advice to a number of environmental non-government organizations, including the Invasive Species Council, which organized the helicopter inspection described in this article.

Jamie flew over the fire-ravaged Kosciuszko National Park and was devastated by what he saw. Cherished wildlife species

are at grave risk of extinction; those populations the bushfires haven’t already wiped out are threatened by thousands of feral horses trampling the land.

As the climate has warmed, the cool mountain habitat of these species is shrinking; bushfires have decimated a lot of what was left. Feral horses now threaten to destroy the remainder, and an urgent culling program is needed.

Australia’s plants and ecosystems did not evolve to withstand trampling by hard-hooved animals, or their intensive grazing. Unfortunately, the New South Wales government has allowed the population of feral horses in the park to grow exponentially in recent years to around 20,000.

I flew over the northern part of the park with members of the Invasive Species Council, who were conducting an urgent inspection of the damage.

"At first, I wondered if the fires may have spared two animals which live in tunnels in the vegetation on the sub-alpine high plains: the alpine she-oak skink and broad-toothed rat (which, despite the name is a cute, hamster-like creature)".

"But not only was their understory habitat burnt, a dozen feral horses were trampling the peat wetlands and eating the first regrowth".

 

Next he flew over a small stream which holds the last remaining population of a native fish species, the stocky galaxias. A small waterfall is all that divides the species from the stream below, and the jaws of the exotic trout which live there.

The aftermath of the fires means the last refuge of the stocky galaxias is likely to become even more degraded. Over the years, feral horses have carved terraces of trails into the land causing erosion and muddying of the stream bank. As more horses congregate on unburnt patches of vegetation after the fires, more eroded sediment will settle on the stream bed and fill the spaces between rocks where the fish shelter. Ash runoff entering the stream may clog the gills of the fish, potentially suffocating them.

Five years ago a survey reported about 6,000 feral horses roaming in Kosciuszko National Park. By 2019, the numbers had jumped to at least 20,000. We saw no dead horses from the air. Unlike our native wildlife, most appear to have escaped the fires.

"If we don’t immediately reduce feral horse numbers, the consequences for Kosciuszko National Park and its unique Australian flora and fauna will be horrendous".

"Responsible managers limit the numbers of livestock on their lands and control feral animals. The NSW government must repeal its 2018 legislation protecting feral horses in Kosciuszko National Park, and undertake a responsible control program similar to those of the Australian Capital Territory and Victoriangovernments".

"Without an emergency cull of feral horses in Kosciuszko National Park, burnt vegetation may not fully recover and threatened species will march further towards extinction".

Jamie Pittock, a professor in the Fenner School of Environment & Society at Australian National University, voluntary provides scientific advice to a number of environmental non-government organizations, including the Invasive Species Council that organized the helicopter inspection described in this article. His article first appeared in The Conversation on January 27, 2020.

Read the full article here.

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