Senate calls for urgent action on feral horses to save the Australian Alps

Invasive Species 1


The Invasive Species Council has welcomed a report released today by the Senate inquiry into the impact and management of feral horses in the Australian Alps.

The inquiry report, which comes ahead of a decision to be made in the coming weeks by NSW Environment Minister Penny Sharpe on whether to allow aerial control for feral horses in Kosciuszko National Park, has recommended that:

  • Aerial shooting should be adopted for control of feral horses in NSW (Recommendation 12)
  • The federal government should provide additional funding to assist NSW and Victoria to control feral horses (Recommendation 10)
  • Habitat degradation, competition and disease transmission by feral horses should be listed as a Key Threatening Process under national environmental law (Recommendation 2)
  • A Commonwealth threat abatement plan for should be developed feral horses (Recommendation 3)

Invasive Species Council Advocacy Manager Jack Gough said:

“With the release of this important senate report, the time for talk on the feral horse issue should be over.

“The science is crystal clear and the public and political mood has shifted as Australians have become better-informed about the damage feral horses are doing to the high country.

“We now need urgent action before our native animals go extinct and our alpine streams are trashed beyond repair.

“With governments at all levels backing feral horse control, we are optimistic, but unless aerial shooting is approved by Minister Sharpe, and federal Minister Plibersek is prepared to stump up serious funding, all this talk will not make a difference to the rapidly rising feral horse population.

“No one likes to see animals killed, but the sad reality is that we have a choice to make between urgently reducing the numbers of feral horses or accepting the destruction of sensitive alpine ecosystems and habitats, and the decline and extinction of native animals.

Snowy River tour guide and Invasive Species Council Indigenous ambassador Richard Swain said:

‘I thank Senator David Pocock for initiating this important inquiry and welcome this strong Senate report calling for urgent action on feral horses.

‘The senseless destruction of Country by feral horses over the last 20 years has been a national disgrace.

‘The springs where the Murray and Murrumbidgee rivers are born have been desecrated by hard hooves.
These iconic rivers don’t get one millimetre out of the ground before they’re trampled.

‘It hurts me and it saddens me that totem species like the corroboree frog and mastacomys are on the brink of extinction.

‘It is shameful that aerial shooting, the most humane and effective control method for removing feral animals, has not been available for control of feral horses.

‘It is now up to NSW Environment Minister Penny Sharpe and federal Environment Minister Tanya Plibersek to heed their calls. We need urgent action on behalf of our soil, water and native species,’ he said.

Media enquiries: 02 8006 5004

Multimedia to accompany this story is available here.

Background notes

  • Hundreds of thousands of other feral animals, like pigs and deer, are routinely culled using aerial shooting as part of normal invasive species management across NSW, including in Kosciuszko National Park, by National Parks, Local Land Services and private landholders.
  • In Kosciuszko National Park 4,583 deer, 669 feral pigs, 15 goats and 17 foxes were removed in the three years to the end of 2022 through aerial shooting.
  • National Parks have a legal obligation to carry out control operations to reduce the feral horse population to 3,000 by 2027 to protect the Park.
  • The numbers of feral horses being removed in NSW using currently available control techniques is well below the population growth rate and thus insufficient to control the growth or spread of feral horses. From July to December 2022, 525 feral horses were removed – well below the population growth rate of about 15% -18% per year.
  • National Parks staff undertake this work professionally, humanely, and safely. This was confirmed last year by an independent animal welfare review of feral horse control operations which found that:
    • Animal welfare outcomes are prioritised and are better than predicted, as confirmed by independent veterinary observations.
    • There was no evidence of non-kill shots having been taken.
    • Standard Operating Procedures are rigorously followed, and all personnel have welfare as a priority.
  • The current management plan for feral horses, which was introduced by the former Liberal Government, states that ‘Animal welfare assessments advise that, if undertaken in accordance with best practice, aerial shooting can have the lowest negative animal welfare impacts of all lethal control methods’.
  • Australia’s alpine plants and animals did not evolve with heavy, hard-hoofed feral horses. They are not native and cause enormous damage to sensitive habitat, degrading and polluting alpine streams and driving native species towards extinction.
  • The federal government’s Threatened Species Scientific Committee have described feral horses as an ‘imminent threat’ to the Albanese government’s commitment to prevent new extinctions of plants and animals and stated that feral horses ‘may be the crucial factor that causes final extinction’ for 12 alpine species.
  • The population of feral horses in Kosciuszko National Park has rapidly increased due to delays and inaction, with the latest government population survey showing a 30% jump in the past 2 years to over 18,000.
  • The 2023 state election demonstrated that having a strong position on feral horse management in Kosciuszko was electorally popular. There were strong swings to candidates and parties that took firm positions on feral horse control, most notably in the seats of Wagga Wagga and Monaro.
  • Trapping and rehoming of feral horses has been used in Kosciuszko National Park for well over a decade but has consistently failed to reduce the population, has delayed meaningful action and is expensive. There are too many feral horses in the Alps and not enough demand for rehoming for it to be relied upon for the reduction of the population.
  • Fertility control as a management tool is only effective for a small, geographically isolated, and accessible population of feral horses where the management outcome sought is to maintain the population at its current size. It is not a viable option to reduce the large and growing feral horse population in the vast and rugged terrain of the Australian Alps.

How many feral horses need to be removed to reduce the population?

Modelling conducted for the Invasive Species Council by ecologist Dr Don Fletcher has found that to get to 3,000 by 2027, 5,991 horses will have to be removed annually (based on an annual population growth rate of 15% – the average growth rate since 2003). The modelling finds that:

  • At the current rate of removal of 1,050/year, the population could reach ~32,900 by 2027.
  • Just to stop the population from growing, 2,825 horses will have to be removed every year.
  • At a higher 18% growth rate, 6,419 will have to be removed annually to reach 3,000 by 2027.
  • Delaying adequate action will increase the cost, damage and number of feral horses killed. For example, a 3-year delay in reaching 3,000 will mean an extra 6-7,000 feral horses are killed.

About the Invasive Species Council

The Invasive Species Council campaigns for stronger laws, policies and programs to protect Australia’s native plants and animals from environmental weeds, feral animals and other invaders.

  • Oceania Luxury Travel Co Luxury Travel Australia Banner 728x90 1