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Australia says it's going to shoot wild horses from helicopters in a bid to cull 14,000 of them

Matthew Loh   

Australia says it's going to shoot wild horses from helicopters in a bid to cull 14,000 of them
  • Officials in New South Wales say they've authorized the shooting of wild horses from helicopters.
  • They've been given a task of eliminating some 14,000 wild horses at a national park in four years.

The New South Wales government has authorized an "aerial shooting" program to cull a population of wild horses at one of its largest national parks.

The culling method has been adopted as part of a state mandate to reduce an estimated 17,000 wild horses in Kosciuszko National Park to just 3,000 by 2027, officials said on Tuesday.

"Aerial shooting" would involve operatives firing on the horses from helicopters — a tactic that the local government trialed in November.

During the trial, officials shot 270 horses over two days while veterinarians accompanied them in the helicopters to observe, the New South Wales government said.

Officials said the veterinarians also inspected 43 of the horses on the ground, and found that "there were no adverse animal welfare events."

"The median time from shooting to insensibility was 5 seconds," the statement said. "No horses were non-fatally wounded"."

An average of 7.5 shots were used to kill each horse, officials added.

With the trial over, the government said it's moving fully ahead with the helicopter shootings, adding that it would "not be possible" to meet the 2027 deadline without the program.

Current government estimates of the national park's wild horse population sit between 12,934 and 22,546 horses, with a best gauge of around 17,400.

Why the government wants to cull horses

The horses, which are referred to as feral horses or brumbies by Australians, are descended from escaped or lost horses brought to the continent by European settlers.

They are often seen as pests that can destroy local environments by compacting and eroding soil, defecating in water sources, and chewing on trees.

When their populations grow too large, they start overfeeding on vegetation, which can disrupt ecosystems and endanger native animal species. The horses can also threaten crops or interfere with farming.

The New South Wales government originally tried containing the horse population through aerial shootings in 2000, but stopped after being met with public outcry.

Now, however, the horse population in Australia has surged so high that the government's scientific committee warned in May they could be the "crucial factor that causes the final extinction" to six critically endangered animals.

Supporters of protecting the wild horses say the animals are part of Australia's heritage, and have decried the revival of the aerial shootings.

The charity Save the Brumbies, for example, has accused the government of assessing the horse population through "flawed survey methodology" and is urging for a recount.

Jan Carter, the founder of the charity, wrote a submission to the Australian parliament in August saying the government should focus investing in efforts to re-home the animals or fertility control.

"Our Heritage Brumbies are a national icon and part of our history," Carter wrote. "They deserve recognition, not bullets."

Tensions over horse cullings have even resulted in threats against government officials. In September 2022, a Kosciuszko National Park office received a letter saying someone wanted to "firebomb" the location, police said.

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