A number of wild horses have died due to starvation in the lower parts of Kosciuszko National Park, an independent veterinary inspection by the Office of Environment and Heritage has confirmed.
Photographs of the dead animals taken on the Snowy River, on the NSW-Victorian Border earlier this month, raised welfare concerns and reignited the debate over brumby management in national parks.
Richard Swain, a guide who runs river tours in remote parts of the Byadbo Wilderness, said his guests had been shocked to discover the “horrific scenes”.
Warning: This story has images that some readers may find distressing.
Mr Swain, who is also a member of the Invasive Species Council, said the horses had clearly starved as a result of the drought.
“We saw dead horses in the middle of the river,” Mr Swain said.
“They’re up the creek beds, they’re laying on the banks of the river.
“And I knew after this winter we were going to see dead horses because there was just way too many and the landscape can’t handle it down there.”
Animals under stress due to lack of water, feed
An Office of Environment and Heritage spokesperson said the horses had died of starvation.
The confirmation came after an investigation by the National Parks and Wildlife Service.
“An independent veterinary inspection confirmed the horses died of starvation due to the drought and that there was no evidence of human interference,” the spokesperson said.
“The area is currently particularly dry and all animals in the area are under stress due to lack of water and feed.”
Mr Swain has been running tours for more than 20 years and has seen the horse population fluctuate with the change in seasonal conditions.
The controversy has prompted more debate about the NSW Government plan to protect brumbies in Kosciuszko National Park.
“The horses are destroying our national park,” Mr Swain said.
“I would like to see a reversal of the 2018 Brumby Heritage Bill and the 2016 draft wild horse management plan implemented.
“Numbers were low in the millennium drought and through the 90s, and as conditions got better around 2012 numbers have exploded.
“It can get quite dangerous at times. The stallion will come into the camp at night and stomp around and get rather cranky at us camping along the river.
Majority of park has abundance of feed, trek operator says
However, former Monaro MP and Snowy Mountains horse trek operator Peter Cochran downplayed the significance of the drought in Kosciuszko National Park.
“If you were to go into [the park] you will see there is an abundance of feed throughout the majority of the park,” he said.
“There are some areas that are stressed and where there has been less rain, but again that’s part of nature.”
Mr Cochran believes repealing the act will not lead to better outcomes for the wild horses dying from starvation.
“There are animals dying all over NSW, whether they be domestic animals, wild horses or native animals,” he said.