Impacts of feral horses in the Australian Alps and evidence-based solutions

Don A. Driscoll, Graeme L. Worboys, Hugh Allan, Sam C. Banks, Nicholas J. Beeton, Rebecca C. Cherubin, Tim S. Doherty, C. Max Finlayson, Ken Green, Renée Hartley, Geoffrey Hope, Chris N. Johnson, Mark Lintermans, Brendan Mackey, David J. Paull, Jamie Pittock, Luciana L. Porfirio, Euan G. Ritchie, Chloe F. Sato, Ben C. Scheele & 5 others Deirdre A. Slattery, Susanna Venn, David Watson, Maggie Watson, Richard M. Williams

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticleResearchpeer-review

    Abstract

    New evidence of impacts by feral horses in Australia's alpine parks systems confirms they endanger threatened species and extensively damage critically endangered bog communities that could take millennia to recover. These impacts are not confounded by effects of deer and accumulate over time, even when only a small number of feral horses (~100) are present. With protected areas representing only a small proportion of the area of the Australian states of New South Wales (9.3%) and Victoria (17%), allowing feral horses to degrade reserves is not a reasonable management compromise, is contrary to the purpose of the protected area system and conflicts with international obligations. Modelling and decades of management experience indicate that trapping alone does not control feral horse numbers. Trapping and fertility control can work in small populations, but not when there are several thousand horses in remote areas. Aerial culling is needed to cost-effectively and humanely control feral horse populations. The relatively small amount of suffering feral horses experience during a cull is outweighed by (i) avoiding suffering and death of horses from starvation and thirst, (ii) avoiding the suffering of native animals displaced by horses and (iii) avoiding the ethical concerns of driving threatened species towards extinction. Objections to aerial culling on welfare and cultural grounds are contradicted by evidence. Improving knowledge in the general community about what is at stake is long overdue because without this knowledge, small groups with vested interests and unfounded claims have been able to dominate debate and dictate management actions. As a result of ineffective management, horse populations are now expanding and causing well-documented damage to Australia's alpine parks, placing at risk almost $10M spent on restoration after livestock grazing ended. The costs of horse control and restoration escalate the longer large horse populations remain in the alpine parks. It is crucial that feral horse numbers are rapidly reduced to levels where ecosystems begin to recover. Aerial culling is needed as part of the toolbox to achieve that reduction.

    LanguageEnglish
    Pages63-72
    Number of pages10
    JournalEcological Management and Restoration
    Volume20
    Issue number1
    DOIs
    StatePublished - 30 Jan 2019

    Fingerprint

    horse
    horses
    culling
    culling (animals)
    threatened species
    trapping
    protected area
    conservation areas
    Victoria (Australia)
    thirst
    damage
    bogs
    bog
    starvation
    cost
    New South Wales
    deer
    fertility
    livestock
    extinction

    Cite this

    Driscoll, D. A., Worboys, G. L., Allan, H., Banks, S. C., Beeton, N. J., Cherubin, R. C., ... Williams, R. M. (2019). Impacts of feral horses in the Australian Alps and evidence-based solutions. Ecological Management and Restoration, 20(1), 63-72. DOI: 10.1111/emr.12357
    Driscoll, Don A. ; Worboys, Graeme L. ; Allan, Hugh ; Banks, Sam C. ; Beeton, Nicholas J. ; Cherubin, Rebecca C. ; Doherty, Tim S. ; Finlayson, C. Max ; Green, Ken ; Hartley, Renée ; Hope, Geoffrey ; Johnson, Chris N. ; Lintermans, Mark ; Mackey, Brendan ; Paull, David J. ; Pittock, Jamie ; Porfirio, Luciana L. ; Ritchie, Euan G. ; Sato, Chloe F. ; Scheele, Ben C. ; Slattery, Deirdre A. ; Venn, Susanna ; Watson, David ; Watson, Maggie ; Williams, Richard M./ Impacts of feral horses in the Australian Alps and evidence-based solutions. In: Ecological Management and Restoration. 2019 ; Vol. 20, No. 1. pp. 63-72
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    abstract = "New evidence of impacts by feral horses in Australia's alpine parks systems confirms they endanger threatened species and extensively damage critically endangered bog communities that could take millennia to recover. These impacts are not confounded by effects of deer and accumulate over time, even when only a small number of feral horses (~100) are present. With protected areas representing only a small proportion of the area of the Australian states of New South Wales (9.3{\%}) and Victoria (17{\%}), allowing feral horses to degrade reserves is not a reasonable management compromise, is contrary to the purpose of the protected area system and conflicts with international obligations. Modelling and decades of management experience indicate that trapping alone does not control feral horse numbers. Trapping and fertility control can work in small populations, but not when there are several thousand horses in remote areas. Aerial culling is needed to cost-effectively and humanely control feral horse populations. The relatively small amount of suffering feral horses experience during a cull is outweighed by (i) avoiding suffering and death of horses from starvation and thirst, (ii) avoiding the suffering of native animals displaced by horses and (iii) avoiding the ethical concerns of driving threatened species towards extinction. Objections to aerial culling on welfare and cultural grounds are contradicted by evidence. Improving knowledge in the general community about what is at stake is long overdue because without this knowledge, small groups with vested interests and unfounded claims have been able to dominate debate and dictate management actions. As a result of ineffective management, horse populations are now expanding and causing well-documented damage to Australia's alpine parks, placing at risk almost $10M spent on restoration after livestock grazing ended. The costs of horse control and restoration escalate the longer large horse populations remain in the alpine parks. It is crucial that feral horse numbers are rapidly reduced to levels where ecosystems begin to recover. Aerial culling is needed as part of the toolbox to achieve that reduction.",
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    Driscoll, DA, Worboys, GL, Allan, H, Banks, SC, Beeton, NJ, Cherubin, RC, Doherty, TS, Finlayson, CM, Green, K, Hartley, R, Hope, G, Johnson, CN, Lintermans, M, Mackey, B, Paull, DJ, Pittock, J, Porfirio, LL, Ritchie, EG, Sato, CF, Scheele, BC, Slattery, DA, Venn, S, Watson, D, Watson, M & Williams, RM 2019, 'Impacts of feral horses in the Australian Alps and evidence-based solutions' Ecological Management and Restoration, vol. 20, no. 1, pp. 63-72. DOI: 10.1111/emr.12357

    Impacts of feral horses in the Australian Alps and evidence-based solutions. / Driscoll, Don A.; Worboys, Graeme L.; Allan, Hugh; Banks, Sam C.; Beeton, Nicholas J.; Cherubin, Rebecca C.; Doherty, Tim S.; Finlayson, C. Max; Green, Ken; Hartley, Renée; Hope, Geoffrey; Johnson, Chris N.; Lintermans, Mark; Mackey, Brendan; Paull, David J.; Pittock, Jamie; Porfirio, Luciana L.; Ritchie, Euan G.; Sato, Chloe F.; Scheele, Ben C.; Slattery, Deirdre A.; Venn, Susanna; Watson, David; Watson, Maggie; Williams, Richard M.

    In: Ecological Management and Restoration, Vol. 20, No. 1, 30.01.2019, p. 63-72.

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticleResearchpeer-review

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    Driscoll DA, Worboys GL, Allan H, Banks SC, Beeton NJ, Cherubin RC et al. Impacts of feral horses in the Australian Alps and evidence-based solutions. Ecological Management and Restoration. 2019 Jan 30;20(1):63-72. Available from, DOI: 10.1111/emr.12357