Brumbies are a very relevant part of the snowy mountains story. The history and cultural significance of the brumbies and mountain cattlemen is an integral part of the snowy mountains identity and Australian history. These brumbies are very capable of being educated and becoming strong, reliable, riding and working horses with a wonderful temperament and are extremely versatile for the whole family. They may not be as glamorous as some but you’ll never find a tougher or more sure-footed horse due to the environment they come from where hills are rough and steep.
Many believe there is no need for eradication of the brumbies and would rather see an ethical and systematic local partnership approach to management of the brumby population. An approach which is consultative and inclusive of experienced and qualified horse people with knowledge of brumby behaviour could be embraced.
In 2018 Parks Victoria introduced ‘The Protection of the Alpine National Park: Feral Horse Strategic Action Plan 2018–2020′. The plan states, “Shooting free ranging horses will not be used to control free-ranging feral horses. In year three of this plan an evaluation of the success or otherwise of trapping and other capture methods will commence. If results demonstrate that the use of additional techniques may be required to achieve adequate protection of the environment from feral horses, further public consultation and dialogue will be undertaken on techniques such as shooting of free-range animals.” The plan also states that “Trapping will be used as the primary method to remove feral horses from all areas in the Alpine National Park area.”
On Monday November 11th 2019 the applications for rehoming brumbies closed. Just over a month later bushfires ravaged NSW and Victoria killing an estimated one billion animals, a number that no doubt included many brumbies.
Since the fires Parks Victoria have not conducted any new surveys on numbers of surviving brumbies so the true number that survived the fatal fire season of 2019 -2020 is unknown.
Under the cloak of COVID-19, Parks Victoria in conjunction with the Victorian government have decided to implement a culling program in direct contravention of their own strategic action plan. Culling was supposed to be a last resort, not the first resort. Since then there has been no chance to implement any trapping or rehoming programs as outlined in the strategic plan.
It’s worth considering that for every brumby in the high country, there are 300 deer. There may be a problem with brumbies in the Alpine National Park but there is also a problem with introduced deer and wild pigs, both of which also damage the environment. The government has failed to adequately manage all of these non-native species.
Not only is there an increase in deer numbers in the Alpine National Park, their numbers have increased in other parts of the state as well. In Victoria, feral deer are listed as a key threat to native species in NSW and Victoria.
Brumbies usually have just one foal each year whereas deer will have as many as 3 fawns in a year. Wild pigs give birth to litters of between 1-15 piglets several times every twelve months. The population of these two introduced species must surely outnumber the brumbies. But unlike deer and wild pigs, brumbies could be trained and re-purposed.
There is some evidence that during the recent fires brumby tracks worked as fire breaks in certain areas. The environment and the remaining species are clearly under threat but does this mean that eradication of the brumbies is the only option? There is definitely a need for effective control and management of non-native feral animal species including deer and pigs and not just in the Alpine National and Kosciuszko National parks but right across the state.
If the government and Parks Victoria go ahead with the culling operation without a clear and comprehensive post bushfire recount of the brumby population they could be wiped out with no opportunity for interest groups to attempt rehoming and retraining of this national icon. Not every death will be quick and none will be painless, causing panic in the herd. Is Parks Victoria and the Victorian government the best choice for judge, jury and executioner when dealing with wild animals and the environment given recent events in the bushfire affected areas?