More than 400 wild horses in northern Victoria’s Barmah National Park will either be shot or trapped and rehomed, under a plan unveiled by Parks Victoria.
- Plan is to reduce feral horse numbers from 550 to 110 by 2023
- Brumbies blamed for destruction of native wetland Moira grass
- Brumby supporters say flooding is more threat to Moira grass that feral horses
The draft four-year strategic plan addresses threats to the floodplain marshes within the Barmah Forest Ramsar Site and Barmah National Park.
It was released for public consultation on Friday and proposed reducing the number of feral horses from 500 to 100 by June 2023.
The long-term goal is total eradication of the species from the area.
According to the draft plan, the brumbies in the national park have played a key role in destroying the native wetland Moira grass, to such an extent that only 12 per cent of the vegetation remains.
Parks Victoria said Moira Grass had declined by 90 per cent over the last 80 years in the park and will be locally extinct by 2026, if immediate action is not taken.
“The decline in Moira grass has been linked to the grazing and trampling pressures historically from cattle and currently from horses. Of all the introduced herbivores, horses are considered the most destructive,” a spokesperson said.
How will the animals be ‘removed’?
Under the draft plan, the reduction of feral horse numbers will be delivered by either shooting the animals or trapping and rehoming them.
As part of the trapping and re-homing process, the horses will be lured to open yards containing baits of salt, molasses and lucerne hay.
They will then be transported offsite to rehoming partners.
“Trap operators will ensure that Parks Victoria’s strict operating standards and animal welfare conditions are met,” the report stated.
Where rehoming cannot be arranged, feral horses will be shot by contracted professional shooters.
“Shooting operations will be overseen by expert equine veterinarians and strictly managed in terms of humane welfare and public safety standards,” the report wrote.
An independent technical reference group, made up in part of experts on the fields of veterinary science, animal welfare science, Aboriginal affairs and mammal and ungulate biology, has also been established to guide Parks Victoria in the management of the feral horses.
Parks Victoria said it would continue to monitor the total horse population and the response of the floodplain marsh vegetation, particularly the Moira grass, over the four-year period.
A revised plan will be developed in the final year of the plan, detailing how the government agency will approach the removal of the remaining 100 horses.
Brumbies shouldn’t bear the blame, says local preservation group
Murray Willaton, president of the Barmah Brumby Preservation Group, said the feral horses were not solely responsible for the decline in native wetland vegetation.
He said about 90 per cent of the 28-hectare park had experienced flooding recently, forcing the animals in to a small section of the park, causing many to starve.
“They [Parks Victoria] are trying to tell the public that all of the problems are associated with the brumbies, when in the meeting, and at other times, they have admitted that the major damage being caused to the Barmah National Park is the unseasonal flooding,” he said.
“I openly admit that the horses are grazing on the grasslands out there. I have not got a problem with that. But the greater problem is that because of the flooding regimes, we won’t have a grassland.”
“The horses are not causing the grasslands to decrease in size. The flooding causes red gum trees and giant rushes to grow and they are choking the grasslands.”
In response, Parks Victoria outlined in the report, that “changes to the natural flooding regime due to river regulation” had contributed to the decline in Moira grass in the park.
But the government agency said the feral horses had exacerbated the issue.
Brumbies a part of the region’s heritage, group claims
Mr Willaton said the brumbies formed an integral part of the region’s history.
“They mean so much to the farming industry, they are a huge part of our heritage, and if the [Victorian] government seems to think that people of this region especially … are going to stand by and allow a mass slaughter of innocent animals … [it is] badly mistaken,” he said.
Mr Willaton said he would like to have seen Parks Victoria and the Sate Government work with local stakeholders to preserve the animals.
“We’ve been trying to say for six years, ‘okay, we’re quite happy to help you reduce the numbers of horses out there down to about 120–150 and we will professionally manage them, we will keep them at that number’,” he said.
“But [Parks Victoria] has never been prepared to work with us.”
But, according Parks Victoria, the Victorian National Parks Act 1975 and other associated legislation does not allow for the ongoing presence of horses within the park.
“Failure to control and remove feral horses and other threats would fail to meet threatened species protection obligations under the Commonwealth Environmental Protection and Biodiversity Conservation (EPBC) Act 1999 and the state Flora and Fauna Guarantee Act 1988,” the spokesperson said.
“Difficult choices need to be made to reduce the severe degradation to the significant environmental values of Barmah National Park, and to address the animal welfare risks created by a burgeoning feral horse population that the park cannot sustain.”
Have a say in plan: Minister
The Victorian Minister for Energy, Environment and Climate Change, Lily D’Ambrosio, said the government had consulted with local stakeholders prior to the release of the draft plan.
“This area is significant to many people, that’s why we’ve undertaken a long-running and thorough consultation — and why it’s so important people have their say on this draft plan.”
The draft plan is available for public consultation until May 30, 2019.
Topics: environment, environmental-management, animals, animal-welfare, barmah-3639, shepparton-3630
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