'Humane' repeat-shooting of brumbies during trial cull

A trial of aerial brumby culling in Kosciuszko National Park has been defended as humane despite some horses being shot more than a dozen times.

The NSW government last month conducted the trial - opposed by brumby activists - which resulted in the killing of 270 feral horses, which authorities blame for damaging endangered species and ecosystems in the park.

The state has a legislated target to cut the brumby population to 3000 by mid-2027, but officials have estimated there are up to 22,500 horses in the park.

Brumbies grazing near Yarangobilly, Kosciuszko National Park
The feral horse count in Kosciuszko National Park has exploded in recent years.

NSW National Parks and Wildlife Service head Atticus Fleming was quizzed over the trial's "repeat shooting" policy at a parliamentary inquiry into aerial shooting on Monday.

Some horses were shot up to 15 times during the trial, while the animals were on average shot more than seven times.

"I think it is humane," said Mr Fleming, who oversees national parks as the state's acting Environment and Heritage Coordinator-General.

He described the trial's results as outstanding, saying the repeat shooting policy contributed "to a very good welfare outcome".

"It means there are multiple shots to the target area literally within seconds ... that is an important component in ensuring the most rapid death possible," Mr Fleming said.

Advice from the RSPCA and vets backed repeat shooting, which led to an average time to unconsciousness of five seconds during the trial, he said.

Environment Minister Penny Sharpe announced in October the state would return to aerial shooting of brumbies to control population numbers.

The feral horse count in the national park has exploded since then-NSW Nationals leader and deputy premier John Barilaro opposed culls in favour of trapping and rehoming in 2018.

Some forms of culling were reintroduced in 2021 in an effort to bring the population down to a sustainable figure, but numbers have continued to increase.

Ms Sharpe conceded aerial culling was controversial but said "the sooner we can get the horses down to a manageable population, the better".

"I think it's the most important thing we can do to look after the park," she told the inquiry.

The Australian Brumby Alliance's Jill Pickering, who favours non-lethal control methods such as fertility measures and passive trapping, said brumbies were being unfairly targeted because they were more conspicuous than deer or pigs.

"They tend to be blamed for anything that is seen," she said.

Tara Ward, a lawyer at the Animal Defenders Office, said in some circumstances shooting wild horses from the air could be considered cruel.

She pointed to the "tormenting and terrifying" hypothetical of a brumby being chased for a long period by a helicopter.

"That could be considered to be an unnecessary act of cruelty," she said.

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