AVA represented at the Senate Inquiry on the Management of feral horses in the Australian Alps

25 Aug 2023


In February 2023, the Senate referred the impacts and management of feral horses in the Australian Alps for inquiry to the Senate Standing Committee of Environment and Communications.

The AVA made a submission to the committee that was led by the AVA’s Australian Veterinary Conservation Biology Group, with collaboration with other special interest groups, the Australian Veterinarians for Animal Welfare and Ethics Group and Equine Veterinarians Australia. 

The AVA commented on the following terms of reference: 

a) Best practice approaches to reduce the population of feral horses.

The acknowledged best practice method to humanely reduce populations of feral horses is shooting (aerial or ground) in accordance with nationally agreed standard operating procedures. Control must be implemented within an adaptive management framework coordinating all aspects of the operation, including continuous monitoring and assessment. Currently in Australia public opinion appears to be a limiting factor in implementing some humane control options, including aerial shooting.

b) The adequacy of state and territory laws, policies, programs and funding.

Jurisdictional issues may contribute complexity, add cost and slow progress in feral animal control. Legislation and policies that attribute ‘cultural’ or ‘game’ value to feral species (horses and deer) cause confusion and erode focus on the environmental damage these animals cause.

We made the following recommendations:

  • Implement and report an ongoing ‘sentinel’ threatened species (animal and plant) program in select sites throughout Kosciusko National Park to facilitate adaptive park management and positive community engagement.
  • Establish environmental ‘decision points’ depending on ongoing environmental outcomes. The program should include triggers for corrective actions such as modifying target areas, methods and/or target numbers of culling.
  • Facilitate ongoing public education including through the Wild Horse Advisory Body.
  • Determine a best practice approach based on scientific assessment of the relative merits, and adoption of the most humane methods. A model for assessing the relative humaneness of pest animal control methods (Sharp & Saunders, 2012) has been developed to enable the evaluation of methods in use and to allow the most humane methods to be identified, based on scientific evidence and suited to the particular situation.

We were invited to present to the committee at the public hearing on 23 August 2023. Dr Michael Banyard represented the AVA in his role as immediate past executive committee member of the  Australian Veterinary Conservation Biology Group.

In his opening statement Dr Banyard commented that in the AVA’s opinion, the Kosciuszko Wild Horse Heritage Act (NSW) 2018 has given disproportionate weight to heritage values [of horses] over obligations to protect native habitats, fauna and flora within the park. He said there is doubt that the two objectives of reducing environmental damage to an acceptable level, and to preserve the heritage value of sustainable wild horse populations, while ensuring other environmental values of the park, can be achieved together.

The inquiry has generated media interest with several outlets covering the hearings and mentioning the AVA’s involvement. We look forward to the outcome of the inquiry when it reports at the end of September.