Feral horse FAQs

What are feral animals? 

Feral animals are non-native (introduced) species that are, or have the potential to become, established in the wild through escape from captivity, deliberate or accidental release and accidental or illegal importation. They are also referred to as pest animals or invasive pest species.

In Australia, feral animals typically have few natural predators or fatal diseases, and some have high reproductive rates. As a result, their populations have not naturally diminished. Feral animals can multiply rapidly if conditions are favourable.


Why is Parks Victoria managing feral animals? 

Parks Victoria has clear legal obligations to protect and manage Victoria’s natural environment, and specifically the parks estate. These obligations are set out in a range of legislation including the Parks Victoria Act 2018, the National Parks Act 1975 (Vic), the Flora and Fauna Guarantee Act 1988 (Vic), the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 (Cth), and the international Ramsar Wetlands Convention.  

Under the National Parks Act 1975, section 17(2)(a), Parks Victoria is obliged to act “for the protection and preservation of indigenous flora and fauna”, and to “exterminate or control exotic fauna” in the parks estate. Parks Victoria also complies with a range of Government policies and decisions regarding the protection of Victoria’s parks and reserves. 

Feral animals have no place in Victoria’s nature. Where possible, Parks Victoria will work to remove feral animals from parks. Where this is impractical due to the extensive ‘foothold’ that some feral animals have established, Park Victoria works to keep feral animals to as small a population as possible. 

Feral animal control programs are just one way that Parks Victoria takes care of Victoria’s parks. To learn more, visit Conserving our parks


What are the impacts of feral animals on our environment? 

Australia's native plants and animals have adapted to life on an isolated continent over millions of years. Since European settlement native animals and plants have been consumed by or had to compete with a large range of introduced species for habitat, food and shelter.  

These pressures have also had a major impact on our country's soils, waterways and marine ecosystems. 


What is a feral horse?

‘Feral horses’ refers to horses or populations of horses that have escaped domestication or are descended from domesticated individuals. It is used in a similar context to other invasive species, such as feral goats. Horses are not native species in Australia, only arriving in the past 200 years. 

The name ‘brumby’ is an Australian term for feral horses, its use dating back to the 1870s. Much of the Alps was initially grazed without fences, so it was common for domestic horses to escape pastoral properties or be intentionally released.   


What is Parks Victoria doing about feral horses in parks? 

Feral horses only occur in two Victorian parks - the Alpine National Park and Barmah National Park. 

Parks Victoria aims to reduce the numbers of feral horses in parks, to protect the natural environment and provide a greater chance of survival for native species, many of which are found nowhere else on the planet. Parks Victoria has clear plans and programs for feral horse management in the two impacted parks. 

For the Alpine National Park, Parks Victoria plans to remove the entire isolated populations of feral horses, including the small numbers (approximately 100) remaining on the Bogong High Plains, as detailed in the Feral Horse Strategic Action Plan 2018-2021. As feral horses are so well-established in the remote terrain of the eastern Alps, they are unlikely to be completely removed, with both population and impact reduction instead being strong management goals. The plan proposes a total removal target of 1200 horses over three years (to  2021). 

For Barmah National Park, Parks Victoria plans to remove the entire population of feral horses over the longer term (estimated at over 500 horses). The aim of the current four-year plan (the Barmah Strategic Action Plan) is to reduce horse numbers down to 100 horses by 2024, then to progressively remove the remaining horses.

Feral horses are or will be removed from these parks through capture, rehoming and in some cases, targeted ground-shooting by professionals in areas of high conservation value. 

All feral horse management operations are thoroughly planned and implemented under strict protocols and oversight, ensuring that operations are safe, effective, humane and meet obligations of all relevant legislation, Codes of Practice and Standard Operating Procedures.

 

 

Why is Parks Victoria managing feral horses in parks? 

Parks Victoria is under the same legal obligations for feral horses as with any other feral animal.

Parks Victoria has a legal and moral obligation to protect Victoria’s natural environment and native species, some found nowhere else on the planet, which are being harmed by the impacts of feral horses. 

They are considered a serious threat to the survival of a number of threatened wildlife and plant species, as well as to native ecosystems - particularly high-country peatlands, mossbeds and snowpatch plant communities in the Alpine National Park and Moira floodplain marshes in Barmah National Park. 

Parks Victoria has an obligation to reduce the abundance of feral horses in Victoria’s national parks to meet obligations under the Parks Victoria Act 2018, National Parks Act 1975 (Vic), Flora and Fauna Guarantee Act 1988 (Vic), Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 (Cth), and the international Ramsar Wetlands Convention


How is Parks Victoria managing feral horses in parks? 

Feral horses are being removed from parks through capture, rehoming and in some cases, targeted ground-shooting by professional shooters in areas of high conservation value. 

All feral horse management operations are thoroughly planned and implemented under strict protocols and oversight, ensuring that operations are safe, effective, humane and meet obligations of all relevant legislation, Codes of Practice and Standard Operating Procedures. 

Information can be found in these detailed management plans: Barmah Strategic Action Plan and Alpine National Park Feral Horse Strategic Action Plan 2018-2021. These plans are based on long-term scientific evidence and have been developed through extensive consultation with government agencies, Traditional Owner groups, community members, environmental groups and other stakeholders. See below for discussion of targeted ground-shooting of free-ranging horses as a management tool being added to feral horse management in the Alpine National Park. 


When is feral horse management happening in parks? 

Planning and implementation of the feral horse management program is underway and will be ongoing. Additional information about the program will be posted on the Parks Victoria website to keep people informed. 

The publication of operational details will consider the safety of staff and park visitors, which is a priority for the management of the program. Parks Victoria is also actively working with Victoria Police to protect the welfare of all people involved in the program. 


Who is involved in the management of feral horses in parks? 

Parks Victoria employs specialist contractors to undertake feral horse management operations, with support from Parks Victoria staff. 

Horse groups, animal welfare organisations and professional operators have also been engaged by Parks Victoria in capture and rehoming efforts. 

Parks Victoria determines which feral horse management techniques are most suitable using evidence from expert scientists and consultation with government agencies, Traditional Owners, community members, environmental groups and other stakeholders. 


Is Parks Victoria planning to remove all feral horses from all protected areas in Victoria? 

No.

Feral horses are only present in the Alpine and Barmah national parks. 

As feral horses are so well-established in the remote terrain of the eastern Alps, they are unlikely to be completely removed. The aim is to reduce the population of feral horses to provide a greater chance of survival for rare and threatened native species, many of which are found nowhere else on the planet. 

Parks Victoria plans to remove entire isolated populations of feral horses. This includes from the Barmah National Park, as stated in the Barmah Strategic Action Plan, and for the small numbers (approximately 100) remaining on the Bogong High Plains in the Alpine National Park, as detailed in the Feral Horse Strategic Action Plan 2018-2021


Will Parks Victoria use helicopters to shoot horses? 

Aerial shooting is not planned for feral horse control in Victorian parks. 


Why can’t feral horses stay in protected areas? 

For millions of years, Victoria's native plants and animals evolved to survive in our unique environments, without the impacts of feral animals. Victoria’s native plants and animals, many of which are found nowhere else on the planet, are not equipped to deal with the impacts of non-native species. 

Horses are not a natural part of the Australian environment. Their hard hooves can cause serious damage to native plants, animals and sensitive ecosystem. Their grazing and impacts destroy habitat critical to many threatened plant and animal species by damaging waterways, degrading fragile vegetation and disturbing soil to cause erosion and compaction. 


What damage do feral horses cause? 

Feral horses are not native to Victoria or Australia. 

Over the last 200 years, feral horses and other hard-hooved animals such as deer have been brought to Australia and have caused significant harm to native ecosystems, habitats and species, which had evolved  on the Australian continent over millions of years.  

Feral horses cause damage to Victoria’s natural environment by: 

  • Grazing and browsing – they consume native plants and destroy the habitat of native wildlife. 
  • Pugging and streambank collapse – they compact soil, increase erosion, cause wet areas to dry out and degrade waterways. 
  • Impacting water quality – they remove vegetation, reduce water filtering, cause muddier water and harm native aquatic species. 
  • Creating trackways – they increase erosion and spread weeds and diseases. 
  • Trampling and opening of bare ground – they harm soil and plant growth. 
  • Producing dung piles – that suffocate native plants and aid weed dispersal. 
  • Spreading weeds – that displace native plants. 
  • Competing for habitat and food - native animals suffer from damaged habitat and less available food.
  • Impacting visitor experience - while some visitors seek or enjoy seeing horses in the Alpine National Park, the presence of feral horse can conflict with other visitors’ expectations of a natural environment and the key features of national parks.  

Alpine National Park exclusion plot showing feral horse damage outside of fence

Horse hoof-prints and damage outside an exclosure plot, Alpine National Park

Aerial view of feral horses in bushfire affected landscape, Alpine National Park

Feral horses forming trackways on bushfire-impacted landscape, Alpine National Park

 

How do we know that horses are damaging the natural environment?

The scientific evidence of feral horse damage to Victoria’s natural environment is clear, well documented and embodied in legislation. 

  • Read here a detailed summary of the science related to feral horse impacts on the Victorian Alps.
  • Read here evidence from leading Australian scientists clearly demonstrating that feral horses in the Alpine National Park have already caused widespread and, in some cases, irreparable damage to the natural environment. 
  • Under the National Parks Act 1975, section 17(2)(a), Parks Victoria is obliged to act “for the protection and preservation of indigenous flora and fauna”, and to “exterminate or control exotic fauna” in the park. 
  • Feral horse impacts of the environment are listed as a ‘threatening process’ under both the Victorian Flora and Fauna Guarantee (FFG) Act 1988 (see Processes List, December 2016) and the Commonwealth Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation (EPBC) Act 1999 (see Novel biota and their impact on biodiversity). 
  • These Acts also acknowledge the precious native species being threatened by feral horses, with the FFG Act listing a number of threatened plants and animals and threatened plant communities as being impacted by horses. Under the EPBC Act, policy statements report that trampling by hard-hooved feral animals, including horses, remains a threat to that wetland community (see Alpine Sphagnum Bogs and Associated Fens Policy Statement 3.16)
    Note: The EPBC Act is the mechanism by which Australia enacts the United Nations Convention on Biological Diversity, an international legally binding treaty with an objective to conserve biodiversity.



What native species are harmed by feral horses? 

Native Australian species that are being threatened by the impacts of feral horses include Smoky Mouse (Pseudomys fumeus) and Broad-toothed Rat (Mastocomys fuscus), Dendy’s Toadlet (Pseudophryne dendyi), Alpine Tree Frog (Litoria verreauxii alpina), Alpine Sheoak Skink (Cyclodomorphus praealtus), Alpine Water Skink (Eulamprus kosciuskoi) and Guthega Skink (Liopholis guthega), Alpine Spiny Crayfish (Euastacus crassu) and Alpine and Mount Stirling Stoneflies.   

Feral horses also threaten very rare alpine and subalpine plants and vegetation communities, many of which support diverse species that are rare and endemic to the parks, including alpine sphagnum moss peatlands, snowpatch communities, and associated wetland bogs. 

Close up of Alpine Tree Frog
Alpine tree frog (Litoria verreauxii alpina)

Close up of Broad tooth rat

Native Broad-toothed Rat (Mastocomys fuscus)



Are horses heritage listed in Victoria? 

No. 

In Victoria, feral horses have been formally recognised as a ‘threatening process’ under Victoria’s Flora and Fauna Guarantee Act 1988.  

Federal Court judgement on 8 May 2020 found that Parks Victoria’s proposed removal of feral horses from the Bogong High Plains and the reduction in number of feral horses in the Eastern Alps, will not have a significant impact on the National Heritage values of the Australian Alps associated with feral horses and horsemanship. 

In New South Wales, the Kosciuszko Wild Horse Heritage Act 2018 recognises the heritage value of sustainable wild horse populations within parts of Kosciuszko National Park and protects that heritage. However, habitat degradation and loss by feral horses is recognised as a ‘threatening process’ under the NSW Biodiversity Conservation Act 2016.


How will Parks Victoria ensure that removal of feral horses from parks is done humanely? 

All feral horse management operations are thoroughly planned and implemented under strict protocols and oversight, ensuring that operations are safe, effective, humane and meet obligations of all relevant legislation, Codes of Practice and Standard Operating Procedures. 

In addition, initial targeted ground shooting operations will occur with expert equine veterinarian oversight to ensure the highest welfare standards. 


Why doesn’t Parks Victoria put a fence around important habitat for native species? 

In some places, fences are placed around small vulnerable habitats to collect information on what the environment should look like without grazing, browsing, trampling and other damage from feral animals such as horses, deer and pigs. These are called exclusion areas or exclosure plots.  

These exclosure plots are designed to keep feral animals out of small, localised areas, and are not an efficient or cost-effective long-term or large-scale solution. 

Aerial view of two exclusion plots in the Alpine National Park showing intact native vegetation inside the fence and feral horse tracks and damage outside the fence

Cowombat Flat, Alpine National Park on 27 February 2020, showing high grazing pressure and waterways damage outside of fenced plots. Approximately 80 horses were observed on the flat on the day this image was taken. Photo: Parks Victoria.

 

Why doesn’t Parks Victoria sterilise feral horses as a control method? 

The option of fertility control has been investigated and is not seen as a solution for reducing either feral horse numbers or environmental damage.

It is not planned to be used for horse control in Victorian parks, due to the large numbers of feral horses, difficulty in delivering the control agent effectively in the field for large numbers of uncontained and unidentified animals (each mare requiring booster shots every one to two years), the inability for the technique to reduce populations significantly over short to medium timeframes, and the continued environmental damage caused by sterilised animals until they die of old age (up to 20+ years). 


How will the public be kept informed of Parks Victoria’s approach to managing feral horses?  

Parks Victoria will provide ongoing updates to stakeholders and partners who are assisting in the implementation of the Feral Horse Strategic Action Plan 2018-2023 and Barmah Strategic Action Plan.  

Parks Victoria will also publish relevant updates on the Parks Victoria website and social media channels. 


There are more deer in Victoria than horses. What is Parks Victoria doing about the deer? 

Parks Victoria regularly undertakes programs to manage deer, pigs and other non-native species, complementing feral horse management. Feral horse management is one component of an integrated approach to reducing the impacts of introduced animals in the Alpine National Park and Barmah National Park.   

As part of the Victorian Government’s emergency response to the impacts of the bushfires on Victoria’s natural environment, an aerial shooting program was undertaken from February 2020 to reduce the impacts of other feral animal species, including deer, feral pigs, goats and foxes. These programs are continuing. 

Feral horses are not included in any aerial shooting operations. 


Feral horses in the Alpine National Park 



What is the Feral Horse Strategic Action Plan 2018-2021

Parks Victoria has developed a Protection of the Alpine National park – Feral Horse Strategic Action Plan 2018-2021 for the purposes of reducing the impacts caused by feral horses in the Alpine National Park.  

This plan complements the existing pest animal management strategy Parks Victoria implements across Victoria, including for rabbits, goats, pigs, deer, cats, foxes and other pests and weeds. 


Why is Parks Victoria planning to shoot free-ranging feral horses when it was not a control method proposed in the Feral Horse Strategic Action Plan 2018-2021

Parks Victoria’s existing program of capture and rehoming is no longer sufficient as the sole method for managing the feral horse populations in the Alpine National Park in order to reduce environmental damage for the following reasons:

  • Feral horse numbers have significantly increased across the Australian Alps over the past five years, rising from an estimated 9,000 to 24,000 in five years. In Victoria, feral horse numbers are estimated as rising from around 2,300 to around 5,000 over the same timeframe. 
  • Horse capture through trapping and roping has been ineffective in removing sufficient horses, coupled with very low public interest and suitable offers to rehome feral horses. 
  • Since December 2018, Parks Victoria has been severely restricted in delivering the trapping and rehoming program while a Federal Court legal challenge was in place. 
  • The 2019-20 bushfires have burnt over 130,000 hectares of the Alpine National Park, impacting threatened alpine wildlife and plants and greatly reducing the unimpacted areas in which these unique species occur.


Capture and rehoming will remain a key part of the feral horse control program, however the combination of factors above justify the urgent need to increase feral horse management and add new management techniques, including the targeted ground-shooting of free-ranging horses.

Aerial shooting is not planned for feral horse control in Victorian parks.

 

Did Parks Victoria undertake public consultation on the Feral Horse Strategic Action Plan 2018-2021?  

The Feral Horse Strategic Action Plan 2018-2021 was developed following several years of engagement with community-based advisory groups, interviews with key peak and regional interest groups, a Victorian community perception survey, and the release of information sheets and background papers. The draft plan was released for public consultation between 22 December 2017 and 16 February 2018.  See the Engagement Summary Report and other supporting information on Engage Victoria.

Almost 1,000 submissions were received in response, with 76 per cent of respondents satisfied or neutral towards the draft plan, and 23 per cent dissatisfied. Seventy-five per cent of respondents had a primary interest in conserving alpine environments, with 21 per cent interested in horse welfare/brumby heritage. 

Of 710 respondents who provided text-based comments, 302 explicitly supported use of shooting as a more effective method, and 97 were explicitly opposed to any form of shooting or culling, reflecting the polarisation of the community around this technique. Some respondents called for the use of fertility control, which is not supported in the plan. 

By engaging with the community to develop the plan, Parks Victoria has continued to build understanding, awareness and detailed knowledge of the views in the community on shooting free-ranging horses. These views were considered and balanced in the final plan published in June 2018. The urgency of issues listed above has necessitated incorporation of targeted ground-shooting of free-ranging horses in areas of high conservation value without a further round of public consultation. 


How many feral horses are in the Alpine National Park? 

In Autumn 2019, the Australian Alps National Parks Co-operative Management Program working with Parks Victoria, NSW National Parks and Wildlife Service and ACT Parks and Conservation Service undertook a feral horse aerial survey in the Australian Alps.

It was found that the combined population estimate for the three blocks surveyed across the Australian Alps has increased from 9,187 in the last survey in 2014 to 25,318 in 2019.  When those figures are broken down by state, the estimated number of feral horses in the Victorian Alps is approximately 5,000 – roughly double the population estimate of 2,350 from the last aerial survey in 2014.  

Read the full technical report on the Australian Alps National Parks Co-operative Management Program website


Why doesn’t Parks Victoria trap and rehome the horses in the Alpine National Park? 

Trapping and roping have been used as the primary methods used to-date for removing feral horses from all areas in the Alpine National Park. Trapping was supported by the public as the most appropriate method of those methods currently available, determined by an Engage Victoria survey in 2017- 2018.

Rehoming interest and capacity in the community is critical to a successful rehoming program. 

Parks Victoria has made considerable effort to find organisations or individuals willing to receive and rehome captured feral horses across the Alps. Between October 2019 and 31 March 2020, direct approaches were made to 17 horse and animal welfare groups, and public advertisements were provided through print media outlets. In total, through two rounds of public promotion, only three formal expressions of interest were received by Parks Victoria across both the Victorian part of the Australian Alps and Barmah National Park, representing a total receipt capacity of just 10 horses. 

Further information for Expressions of Interest to rehome horses will be announced shortly. 


How many horses is Parks Victoria removing from the Alpine National Park?  

Parks Victoria will deliver feral horse control programs in the Alpine National Park using two primary methods: 

  • Live capture and removal from accessible areas to be transported offsite for rehoming, subject to rehoming interest and capacity. 
  • Targeted ground-shooting of free-ranging horses, focused on sites of high conservation value and vulnerability. This program will occur with oversight from a qualified equine veterinary experts. 

These techniques in combination will be used to attempt to reach a removal target of 1,200 horses by 2021, as proposed in the Feral Horse Strategic Action Plan 2018-2021 (p.23). 

Aerial shooting is not planned for feral horse control in Victorian parks. 


Why is Parks Victoria planning to shoot feral horses at night? 

Targeted ground shooting of free-ranging feral horses by professional shooters is the most humane and environmentally-sensitive way to remove small mobs of feral horses in specific locations.  

By undertaking operations at night using thermal imaging and noise suppression, the shooters ensure minimal disturbance for the small mobs of horses. These techniques allow close approach to horses and ensures high shooting accuracy and immediate death for targeted animals.  

All feral horse management operations are thoroughly planned and implemented under strict protocols and oversight, ensuring that operations are safe, effective, humane and meet obligations of all relevant legislation, Codes of Practice and Standard Operating Procedures.  Expert equine veterinarian oversight for shooting operations will ensure highest welfare standards and outcomes. 

Aerial shooting is not planned for feral horse control in Victorian parks. 


Can people continue to ride horses in permitted areas of the Alpine National Park? 

Yes. 

Parks Victoria has no plans to change arrangements for recreational riding of domestic horses in the Alpine National Park.   
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