Population Australian Alps and Kosciuszko Brumby Horses

Author- Joanne Canning, BSc Equine Sports Science, HND Equine Sports Coaching, BHSII

From the document –Feral Horses in the Australian Alps: the Analysis of Aerial Surveys Conducted in April-May, 2014 and April-May2019 (Cairns, 2019) – page 1, the following figures were given.

https://theaustralianalps.files.wordpress.com/2019/12/feral-horses-in-the-australian-alps-the-analysis-of-aerial-surveys-conducted-in-2014-and-2019-cairns-s-2019.pdf

Year

North Kosciuszko

Bago Maragle

Byadbo Victoria

Australian Alps

2014

3255

1616

4316

9187

2019

15,687

1113

8518

25,318

 

The average group size spotted in the 2019 survey was 3.515 horses (page 31 of the above document).

Working then on an average group size of 4 horses, this would of course mean there would be approximately 6,330 groups of horses over the parks!

Please see the following document –

https://www.environment.nsw.gov.au/-/media/OEH/Corporate-Site/Documents/Animals-and-plants/Pests-and-weeds/Kosciuszko-wild-horses/kosciuszko-national-park-draft-wild-horse-management-plan-160271.pdf

According to this document,   the populations in the park are likely to increase by between 6% and 17% per year. This follows many other scientific papers on this matter.

In the 2008 management plan –

https://www.environment.nsw.gov.au/-/media/OEH/Corporate-Site/Documents/Animals-and-plants/Pests-and-weeds/Kosciuszko-wild-horses/kosciuszko-national-park-horse-management-plan-080254.pdf

population growth rates are said to be closer to 8%.

Using figures from the surveys done in 2009 and 2014, the increase in population for the whole of the Kosciuzsko Park calculates out at an estimated increase of 16%, which is a realistic maximum increase.  They had calculated the increase to be much lower at around 7% but there was no account taken of horse removals by the parks. Also worth noting is that to get from the 2014 figure to the proposed 19,000 horses that the Park mention on their website, this would be an increase of suddenly 27% not including removals and 29% when accounting for removals

The analysis report notes (page 1) for the North Kosciuszko area (where the majority of horses are and the subject of the proposed cull now) – “Equated with this increase over the intervening  five years was a finite rate of population increase of 1.370 or 37%”! And apart from this being a ludicrous increase, it is made worse by the fact that removals of horses had again not been taken into account! So the estimated population increase would be even higher than 37%!  Calculations show this would then bring the estimated population increase to 41%

When studying papers relating to previous counts, the same discrepancy was found, in that the estimated population increase percentage was made without taking into account the removal of horses by the parks and in so doing, these figures, which are already (in particular the 37%) way over the normal scientific agreed maximum population increases, would be even higher than stated in the reports. It is absolutely not likely to exceed the 17%  mentioned above. And population rates would not suddenly go up from 16% to 29%. And certainly would not be 41%!

In the survey report they have then used the overall increases from the whole of the Alpine Parks areas to get a more realistic population increase, but as these populations of horses are very distinct and separated, it is EXTREMELY UNLIKELY that horses would have drifted across to the North Kosciusko region from another region. Therefore the reality is that the estimated numbers in this area are WAY IN EXCESS OF THE REAL NUMBER OF HORSES IN THIS AREA.

Over the whole of the Alpine Parks (including Victoria region), when taking into account removal of horses from both Parks, the estimated increase in population would have to be approx. 12% from 2009 to 2014 to get from the 7,679 horses estimated in 2009 to the estimated 9,187 in 2014 and then suddenly shoot up to an increase of 26% to get to the figure of 25,318. Again a ridiculously high figure! – Mostly because of the supposed increase in the North Kosciuszko area.

According to the survey done in 2005 the estimated population in the Kosciuszko National Park was a total of 1710 horses. This was from a survey done by Montague Drake in 2005.

For removal of horses in the Kosciuszko Park please see –

https://www.environment.nsw.gov.au/-/media/OEH/Corporate-Site/Documents/Animals-and-plants/Pests-and-weeds/Kosciuszko-wild-horses/kosciuszko-national-park-2008-horse-management-plan-wild-horse-management-program-review-160272.pdf

Therefore, starting with the population estimate for 2005 of 1710 horses, using an increase in population of the maximum stated of 17% (also would agree with other scientific papers), but taking into account the removals by the parks the total figure of horses in the Kosciuszko National Park would be approximately 2984 in 2014 and 3508 in 2016.

Continuing with the same calculation of 17% increase and accounting for removals the total estimated figure for the Kosciuszko National Park for 2019 would be 5155. Not over 19,000!

And these figures would of course be pre-fires!  The count done after the bushfires of 2003 found that the population was reduced by approx. 41%

In the area of North Kosciuszko – the area of the planned cull – in 2005 the estimated population in this area was 1120 horses according to the Montague-Drake – 2005 survey.

Again using the reported removals in this area and accounting for a 17% maximum increase, the calculated estimate of the number of horses in this area of the park would be – 1795 in 2014 and 2581 in 2019! Some years there have been significant removals of horses in this area (616 in 2012).

The planned removal therefore of 4,000 horses, would not only remove ALL OF THE HORSES IN THIS AREA OF THE PARK, but if there are – as suspected by the locals, more likely even lower than the number given above of 5155 in the whole park, the removal of 4,000 horses would devastate the population!!! If there are, as suspected, around 2581 in total in the North Kosciuszko section, then this would be of course the total removal of every horse in this area.

As we all know, rehoming of 4,000 horses in one go would absolutely never be possible and so it’s perfectly clear that these horses will be either shot in the park grounds or taken to a knackery facility. There needs to be, first of all, a new count of the horses remaining in the park to establish a much more accurate count of the current numbers. This can be done using drone technology with video or aerial spotting, as has already been used. This would show to all parties proof of the actual numbers remaining in the park.

There have  been regular annual spotting counts done by the parks using visual sight and helicopters in the Northern Kosciuszko area. Observed numbers from one of these in 2014 were 1637.  .This of course is VERY MUCH IN ALIGNMENT WITH THE FIGURE I HAVE GIVEN FOR THIS YEAR OF 1795. The amount of horses spotted in this area in 2019 was 3110 according to the horse count flights September 25-26 2019.

All of this of course is also not taking account horses that perished in the fires!

It seems therefore that more reliance should be made on these sight surveys and additional surveys using drone technology with video. Rather than computer modelling.

Once done, if at all necessary, the horse population could be controlled by some rehoming and population control. There are now new proven techniques of this and there are local horse people who are qualified to do such control. Further protection of areas of significance could be made using the suggestions of the top Wildlife Ecologist – Mr Craig Downer, who has written a paper giving specific suggestions of keeping the horses away from these areas. Looking at the map showing the distribution of the horse populations in the park, there is very little crossover anyway into these areas.