The science is in: aerial cull of feral horses needed to reduce their impacts in the Australian Alps

A suite of research papers published today in a special issue of the journal Ecological Management & Restoration together show that feral horses degrade the alpine environment, and aerial culling is urgently needed to stop them driving already threatened species closer to extinction, and promote recovery of already degraded habitats.

Professor Don Driscoll, President of the Ecological Society of Australia, said there is strong evidence that feral horses damage the Kosciuszko National Park.

‘New evidence of the impacts by feral horses in Australia's alpine parks confirms that they endanger threatened species and extensively damage critically endangered communities that could take thousands of years to recover,’ he said.

He said computer modelling and decades of management experience have shown that trapping and fertility control alone can’t control the thousands of feral horses in remote areas. ‘Aerial culling is needed to cost-effectively and humanely control feral horse populations,’ he said. ‘As a result of ineffective management, horse populations are now expanding and causing well documented damage to Australia's alpine parks.’

Nine ecological papers from 25 authors representing at least 12 organisations provide very clear science that any attempt to accommodate feral horses in the Kosciuszko National Park makes no ecological nor business sense.

‘Research in this journal shows that management of feral horses in the Australian Alps using aerial culling from helicopters costs three to six times less than trapping and mustering,’ said Professor Driscoll. ‘In addition to the lower cost, aerial culling was also more effective.’

‘The damage already caused by feral horses threatens almost $10 million invested to restore Kosciuszko ecosystems after cattle and sheep were banned. The widespread erosion caused by horses will cost much more than that to reverse.  And the costs of restoration escalate the longer feral horses remain in Australia's alpine parks.’

Threatened species at risk from the impacts of horses include the critically endangered corroboree frog, alpine tree frog, alpine water skink, broad-toothed rat and Kiandra greenhood. A report for the Ecological Society of Australia found that feral horses present a substantial weed risk, damage waterways and are a threat to native species.

‘We can celebrate the Man-From-Snowy-River culture without having horses in sensitive alpine ecosystems,’ said Professor Driscoll. ‘Cultural appreciation of horses already occurs outside national parks in other ways such as festivals and races. Feral horses need to be quickly removed from national parks to protect Australia's natural heritage and globally unique flora and fauna.’

Special Edition of Ecological Management & Restoration available at: https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/toc/14428903/2019/20/1

For further information:

Professor Don Driscoll, ESA President, 03 9251 7609, mobile 0488657888, d.driscoll@deakin.edu.au
Media enquiries: Simon Torok, Scientell, mobile 0409 844 302, simon@scientell.com.au