A post-bushfire estimate of horse numbers in Kosciuszko National Park and a change of heart from deputy premier John Barilaro confirms the urgent need to reduce the feral horse population to protect the park from their damaging impacts.

Reclaim Kosci conservation officer Candice Bartlett welcomed a surprising change of heart from deputy premier Barilaro reported today in the Sydney Morning Herald following the release of an updated estimate of 14,000 feral horses in Kosciuszko National Park.

In the article Mr Barilaro now supports drastically reduced horse numbers and the need for science-based management.

“The deputy premier’s latest admission echoes the sentiments of the widely-supported draft plan proposed in 2016 by former environment minister Mark Speakman”, Ms Bartlett said.

“We’ve lost valuable time over the last two and a half years and we still don’t have a new horse plan in place.

“The Kosciuszko Wild Horse Heritage Act has been a huge distraction and is the wrong way to manage a serious environmental pest.”

This vindicates Reclaim Kosci’s call to repeal this draconian law.

“It was in June 2018 that Mr Barilaro pushed through the horse protection law, dumping the 2016 plan and overriding national park legislation. He said his approach would see a reduction of horses in the park and protect sensitive areas,” Ms Bartlett said.

“Every year we wait sees the scale of the problem grow and the damage to the park increase.

“Now that Mr Barilaro supports a science-based horse management plan, Reclaim Kosci looks forward to working constructively with the NSW government on the rapid implementation of a new plan.”

ANU environmental management expert Professor Jamie Pittock said the numbers released today confirm the need to immediately reduce horse numbers in the park.

“Confirmation that over 14,000 feral horses are roaming Kosciuszko National Park reiterates what we have known all along, that there is an unsustainable level of horses in the park that are destroying Kosciuszko’s incredible natural values,” Professor Pittock said.

“With as few as 340 horses removed from Kosciuszko National Park during post-bushfire recovery efforts so far, today’s report confirms the park desperately needs a horse management plan that substantially reduces the thousands of horses still roaming the park despite periods of severe drought and bushfire.

“Australia’s greatest rivers – the Murray, Murrumbidgee and Snowy – are being trampled and degraded at their source by hard-hooved horses.

“These results confirm that there are too many feral horses in Kosciuszko, and as the park continues to recover from bushfire their numbers will continue to grow.

“The environmental damage speaks for itself, horse numbers in Kosciuszko National Park must be immediately reduced.”

As former NSW liberal minister Pru Goward recently told Reclaim Kosci, “You can’t have endangered species both flora and fauna struggling in an area where they are constantly being threatened by hard hoofed animals.”

“Yes, we all understand the romantic appeal of horses but not in that region; such a fragile and unique ecosystem for the world but for Australians too.”

Reclaim Kosci is petitioning the NSW Parliament to repeal the Kosciuszko Wild Horse Heritage Act, urgently implement a long-term horse management plan for Kosciuszko National Park and begin restoring areas damaged by feral horses, in particular the Snowy, Murray and Murrumbidgee catchments. The petition closes at the end of today.

At a glance

  • The new Kosciuszko survey shows there has been no significant change in horse density in northern Kosciuszko since comparable estimates carried out in 2019. Northern Kosciuszko is crucial habitat for a number of threatened animal species, has the highest horse population in the park and was the area most impacted by last summer’s bushfires.
  • The survey provides a population estimate of around 14,000 horses in Kosciuszko National Park, and concludes with 95% confidence there are at least 9000 horses in the park but there could be as many as 22,000.
  • Previous horse estimates across the Australian Alps have shown positive trends in horse population growth in Kosciuszko over more than a decade. Kosciuszko was estimated to have a population of around 2000, 6000 and 20,000 horses in 2005, 2014 and 2019 respectively.
  • The new report is the first population estimate to be conducted specifically in Kosciuszko. The new estimate falls within the error range of the 2019 estimate.
  • Analysis of bushfire severity mapping shows the 2019-20 summer bushfires affected only 30% of Kosciuszko National Park occupied by feral horses and the new survey confirms that horse numbers in most areas are largely unchanged.