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Wednesday, April 21, 2021

Release of feral horses in Kosciuszko ‘makes a mockery’ of NSW commitment

News that over one third of all feral horses trapped in Kosciuszko National Park since July 2020 have been released by the NSW National Parks and Wildlife Service (NPWS) has outraged members of the ACT Government.

Minister for Land Management Mick Gentleman said the NSW Government needed to “come to the table” with a stronger management plan, consistent with those in ACT and Victoria.

“Releasing feral horses back into Kosciuszko National Park makes a mockery of the NSW Government’s recent commitment to reducing numbers, and underscores how unrealistic and ineffective trapping and rehoming methods are,” he said.

There are over 14,000 feral horses across Kosciuszko National Park, according to a spring 2020 population survey by NPWS.

According to a NPWS spokesperson, 767 horses were trapped in Kosciuszko National Park over nine months from 1 July 2020 to 26 March 2021.

Of those, 484 were removed from the Park – 96% of which have been rehomed.

But 279 feral horses were not removed from the park. Instead, they were set free.

“They were released from trap yards in the park for welfare reasons, including heavily pregnant mares and young foals which are not fit for transport,” the NPWS spokesperson said.

“The approach to trapping reflects a commitment to reducing horse numbers while maintaining the highest possible welfare standards.”

The spokesperson said trapping of horses in Kosciuszko National Park occurred in accordance with “all relevant legislative requirements”.

In 2018, the NSW Government passed an Act to recognise and protect “wild horse heritage values”, while enabling active management of their population to reduce their impact on “the park’s fragile environment”.

In 2020, the ACT Government released a feral horse management plan that proposed population control methods including ground and aerial shooting, “humane destruction on site” and “fertility treatments” on feral horses, were the NSW population to pass ACT borders.

Invasive Species Council CEO Andrew Cox said the NSW Government was “failing dismally to stop the spread of feral horses on their side of the border” in a statement released last fortnight.

Mr Cox praised the Victorian Government’s new feral horse action plan, which he said followed in the footsteps of the ACT Government’s zero-tolerance position on feral horses and left NSW “in the dark ages”.

There is “significant opportunity” for feral horses to enter Namadgi National Park, according to the ACT Government’s management plan.

The plan found local drinking water, threatened species, heritage sites with significance to Ngunnawal people, and endangered wetlands would be at risk if feral horses expanded their territory to include Namadgi.

Minister for the Environment Rebecca Vassarotti said the ACT Government declared feral horses as pest animals last year to recognise the damage they cause to native habitats and species.

“Our precious environment does not recognise state boundaries, which is why a joint and consistent approach with NSW is the only way to protect the environment from pests in the ACT and surrounding region,” she said.

“It is now time for the NSW Government to stop protecting destructive feral horses at the expense of our environment and unique biodiversity.”

A new draft feral horse management plan is set to be released by the NSW Government before July 2021.

“The plan will safeguard the environmental values of the park, while also protecting the heritage values of the wild horses,” a NPWS spokesperson said.

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