One of the proudest moments of the Sydney Olympic Games was the opening ceremony, when dozens of mounted stockmen rode into the stadium, each carrying an Australian flag. The notion of wild bush horses and brave mountain stockmen is one that is etched deeply into our national psyche, as illustrated in Banjo Patterson’s famous poem ‘The Man From Snowy River’.
At the end of October, just one month after the Olympic Games, the New South Wales National Parks and Wildlife Service commissioned and carried out a brumby cull in the Guy Fawkes National Park, near Coffs Harbour. 617 wild horses were shot using high-powered rifles from helicopters. A public outcry followed. The RSPCA is currently investigating claims that the cull was inhumane and inaccurate, and that some animals suffered a slow, painful death.
History of feral horses in Australia
Horses arrived with the First Fleet in 1788. In 1804 a horse breeder, Lt. Brumby, allegedly released horses into the NSW bush, and Australian wild horses have been known as ‘Brumbies’ ever since. Under favourable conditions, feral horse populations can increase by 20% a year, and despite all efforts to control their numbers, Australia now has the largest number of feral horses in the world.
Why not leave them alone?
Feral horses cause serious environmental damage. They have hard hooves which compact the soil, they habitually travel on the same paths thus contributing to gully erosion, they foul waterholes and introduce weeds to areas, and they compete with native animals for food. They are also potential carriers of exotic diseases such as equine influenza and African horse sickness, both a serious threat to domestic horses.
Slaughter of an Australian icon
We asked high country horseman and Mayor of Cooma, Peter Cochran, what he thought about the brumby cull. Peter was disgusted at what he calls "one of the most cruel acts in Australia’s history". He said that brumbies are a national icon and a tourist attraction. While agreeing that feral horse populations must be controlled, Peter said that there are better ways of doing it than "blazing away with guns and helicopters". He thinks the NSW National Parks and Wildlife Service should be brought to account for their actions, and that future culls should be conducted by rounding up the horses and yarding them.