Native guardians shared about the fate of wild horses in Kosciuszko National Park

Opinions are divided among Ngarigo managers, whose traditional lands occupy Kosciuszko National Park, on a proposal to manage wild horses in the NSW Highlands.

Time is running out to provide feedback on the draft plan to reduce brumby numbers to 3,000 by June 2027, with public submissions open until Tuesday, November 2nd.

The draft proposes to keep brumbies in 32 percent of the park, with excess horses that cannot be rehoused, taken for slaughter, shooting or killing.

University of Sydney Professor and Ngarigo woman Jakelin Troy wants zero horses in the park, but as a horse lover herself she can understand why the issue has created so much debate.

“I think it’s really important that the high country, the Snowy Mountains, is free of game everything,” she said.

A woman feeds two horses hay
Professor Jakelin Troy says there should be no wild horses in Kosciuszko National Park.(ABC News: Nick Haggarty)

The draft plan claims that wild horses are a major threat to native plants and animals, citing scientific evidence showing that an “abundance” of “hard ungulates” harms the alpine and subalpine environment.

The latest survey showed that there were more than 14,000 blackbirds in the park,

But some do not agree, as they believe the numbers are much lower after the Black Summer bush fires.

“They just pick numbers out of thin air,” said Andrew Wilesmith, a member of the Ngarigo Nation Indigenous Corporation and the Snowy Mountains Bush Users Group.

“They need to be checked, and we understand that, and we agree on that. But to do that, we need to come to a reasonably accurate figure.”

Horse reserve

Wilesmith says 4,000 is a sustainable population target, but he wants every horse removed from the park to be rehoused, not killed.

He suggests that a sanctuary or reserve managed by traditional owners could be established to control the horses.

a man sides on a horse wearing a blue shirt and hat and pulls another behind him.
Ngarigo guard Andrew Wilesmith says there should be 4,000 wild horses in Kosicuszko National Park. (ABC Upper Hunter: Amelia Bernasconi)

“If we had a sanctuary in the country of about 40,000 acres, people with horse handling experience, in partnership with the Ngarigo Nation, could handle these horses from the ground up to a stage where they can be put on a float … and they can be rehoused, said Wilesmith.

Professor Troy supports elements of the idea, admitting that it is unlikely that the population will be reduced to zero.

“I think we could manage them really well, but I don’t think it’s a good idea in the park,” she said.

“I think it would be much better to have them in a place where it is currently grazing land.

“It’s a compromise. A very small number of horses is better than the very large number we have now.”

Finding a balance

A wild horse management plan was attempted in 2016, but then NSW National leader John Barilaro opposed it and prevented it from being implemented.

Instead, he introduced in 2018 the Wild Horse Heritage Act, which protects the animals.

A study published in January 2021 revived the NSW government’s commitment to reducing the number of horses in the park.

NSW Environment Minister Matt Kean spoke at a budget estimate hearing last week that the draft Kosciuszko National Park Wild Horse Heritage Management Plan and the figure of 3,000 were trying to find a balance.

“It’s the number we could land on that brought together the people who care about these horses and the people who love the natural environment,” he said.

A woman standing in a park with a black blazer and red top, glasses
Shadow Environment Minister Penny Sharpe says the number of wild horses should be reduced. (ABC News: Aaron Hollett)

NSW Shadow Environment Minister Penny Sharpe said a first draft plan suggested 600 horses should be left in the park.

She says 3,000 is a significant departure from that, but the draft plan, as it stands, is a good start.

“It’s disappointing that we are not using science to decide these issues,” she said.

“But there is an obligation to reduce horses in the park, and that is very important.”

Encourages more time

Public comments on the draft plan have been open for a month, but some say more time is needed.

“I think it has taken the Minister 270 odd days to deliver the draft management plan and he only gave the people 30 days to consult on it,” Wilesmith said.

“Six months of consultation would have been better,” Professor Troy said.

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