‘Brumbies bill’: New laws protecting Snowy Mountains’ wild horses divide community

IN THE MOUNTAINS: Brumbies in the high grasslands near Kiandra in the Snowy Mountains. Picture: Fairfax file image
IN THE MOUNTAINS: Brumbies in the high grasslands near Kiandra in the Snowy Mountains. Picture: Fairfax file image

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New laws preventing the culling of brumbies from the Snowy Mountains has been met with both outrage and praise from the community. 

Earlier this month the NSW government passed a bill outlawing the practice, stating its intention to instead focus on re-homing. 

“This bill is about finding a balance to manage sensitive areas of the Kosciuszko National Park (KNP), whilst managing the population of brumbies through humane population control methods,” NSW Deputy Premier John Barilaro said in a press release. 

“If brumbies are found in highly-sensitive alpine areas of Kosciuszko National Park, resources will be allocated towards relocation, followed by re-homing, should population numbers grow too high.” 

New laws are ‘ecological vandalism’

Doug Reckord, National Parks Association Far South Coast branch member and former NPWS Regional Advisory Committee member, said the protection of feral horses in KNP threatened the future of critically endangered species in Australia’s rarest and most fragile ecosystems.

“[This] feral horse protection bill is ecological vandalism; the cultural equivalent of the National Gallery tossing Sydney Nolan’s Ned Kelly paintings into a bin and replacing them with three plaster ducks,” he said. 

"We are celebrating the opposite of what the Man From Snowy River was about. He was in there hunting horses out of the mountains." 

He said a search through old newspapers in the National Library of Australia’s Trove database revealed many cases where landholders wanted the government to get rid of the “brumby menace”. 

[This] feral horse protection bill is ecological vandalism; the cultural equivalent of the National Gallery tossing Sydney Nolan’s Ned Kelly paintings into a bin and replacing them with three plaster ducks.

Doug Reckord

“For much of the 19th and 20th centuries the brumby was seen as a worthless pest, no better than the rabbit, but easier to get rid of,” Mr Reckord said.

“People whose forefathers ruthlessly exterminated wild horses now claim that those who want them eradicated are ‘extreme Greens’.

“They claim to be patriots and are happy to sit idly by while an introduced animal tramples native Australian species into a muddy extinction.” 

Traditional owners support ‘brumbies bill’

Djiringanj and Ngarigo elders Ellen Mundy and David Dixon welcomed the decision to stop culling brumbies. 

“The reason Ngarigo people don't support the mass culling of the brumby is because we love animals, but also because we see parallels with any ‘culls’ of perceived problems from Western European cultural perspectives,” Ms Mundy said. 

“Within Australian history we were once the brumby, a perceived problem with the only solution being to kill and to cull.

“That's not our culture, we've never thought that way about any introduced species. 

“We've not even thought that way about the colonists, who are introduced from foreign lands. 

“It’s never ever entered our thoughts, we're not barbaric.” 

She said part of the reason environmental issues have worsened in the KNP was due to the exclusion of traditional owners regarding the park’s ongoing management.

“Whilst the decision is welcomed it should also be followed up with inclusion of Ngarigo people regarding the humane management of the brumbies within the KNP,” she said. 

Within Australian history we were once the brumby, a perceived problem with the only solution being to kill and to cull.

Ellen Mundy

Mr Dixon said the KNP was listed under UNESCO as a protected world heritage biosphere and the UNESCO charter stated original peoples of the park should be included within its management. 

“The brumby problem is only a byproduct of a more deeply rooted problem, that being the exclusion of traditional owners from the management of the KNP,” he said. 

"We can establish solutions that doesn't involve culling, but protects the environment within the KNP.” 

Importance of scientific research

NPA Far South Coast branch vice-president Kim Taysom stressed the importance of using scientific research to make decisions regarding feral animal management and said the number of brumbies in the park had doubled since 2008 to about 6000, despite the use of culling. 

“If you suddenly stop culling there will be an explosion of horse numbers,” he said.

“They will eat themselves out of house and home and eventually the population will may crash, but they will take everything with them.

“If you’re going to say it’s okay to have the animals up there, you have to have the science to back it up.” 

Already, he said, the more sensitive bogs and wetter areas in the higher altitude have been degraded by the proliferation of brumbies in the area.  

Mr Taysom said if the NSW government planned to re-home thousands of wild horses it would cost millions of dollars.

 Also, he said in previous years not enough homes had been found for brumbies that had been captured with the intent of being re-homed, so many had to be sent to an abattoir. 

“Culling is cheaper, it’s quicker, it’s more effective,” he said.

“Re-homing is a very, very expensive business.” 

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