Brumby cull on central Queensland Island sparks community outrage, prompts review
Conservationists say the damage horses cause to native environments is a concern. (Supplied: Ann Abbott)
The Queensland Government will review the need to cull wild horses on a central Queensland island after outrage from the local community over a recent cull.
Queensland Parks and Wildlife Service (QPWS) conducted an aerial cull of the brumby population on Curtis Island, off the coast of Gladstone, in August 2018, killing around 200 horses and leaving fewer than 50.
- Residents say they were not consulted before an aerial cull of brumbies in August
- QPWS says residents bordering the national park were notified by letter
- State Labor member, Glenn Butcher, says there will be no further culling until environmental studies are carried out
WARNING: This story contains images that some readers may find distressing.
QPWS said the operation to remove feral animals including pigs, cattle and horses was essential to protect native species and sensitive ecosystems.
But it caused uproar from the local community and many residents said the cull came without warning or consultation.
“They didn’t tell us this was going to happen,” resident John Abbott said.
“It was literally like machine gun fire. It was very horrific and upsetting,” resident Ann Abbott said.
Ms Abbott and her husband John began a social media campaign and have rallied locals to save the remaining Curtis Island brumbies.
Curtis Island residents say say multiple carcasses have been scattered in the bush since an aerial cull in August. (ABC Capricornia: Rachel McGhee)
Ms Abbott grew up on the island and cannot remember a time without the brumbies.
“We loved the horses… many of us have been here for many many years and there’s always been horses here,” she said.
Mr Abbott said the campaign called on the Queensland Government to investigate why the community was not consulted on the matter and to reconsider the removal options for the brumbies.
“No further shooting of the horses … and should at any time in the future there be a need to reduce the number of horses on the island … round the horses up and take them off the island,” he said..
Mr Abbott said the community felt betrayed by QPWS and said the service had backflipped on previous promises.
The Curtis Island community want to see the remaining brumbies saved. (ABC Capricornia: Rachel McGhee)
“As recently as 2016 the national parks were saying that they would not cull the horses,” he said.
“I had one of the rangers sitting less than three feet away from me telling me the horses would not be culled.
“The fact that they’ve changed their policy and are now saying they’re going to shoot them all — they have done that entirely without consultation.”
That claim is disputed by QPWS, which said neighbours bordering the national park were notified of the cull by letter.
Locals say the brumbies were often seen walking through town and were friendly, tame animals, loved by the community. (Supplied: Ann Abbott)
Calls for investigation answered
State Labor member for Gladstone, Glenn Butcher, said the Queensland Environment Minister agreed to do another study on the need to cull brumbies on Curtis Island.
“I’ve said to the Minister, and she’s agreed, no further culling of horses over there until we get this further scientific and environmental study done,” he said.
“I just want to be factual that what we’ve done and what we’re going to do in the future is right.”
Mr Butcher said he planned to meet with the community before the end of the year to discuss the issue.
“There was no consultation with myself either; part of the department’s program is to not let the community know,” he said.
“I’ve talked to the Minister about that and that will certainly be changing if any other program goes forward in relation to reduction of numbers of horses over on Curtis Island.
“The community should feel let down that they weren’t involved.”
He said he understood the importance of conserving the native environment but was open to other population management options for the brumbies.
“If the community has options and facilities available where they can take them off the island in a humane way we certainly need to have a look at all of those,” Mr Butcher said.
Community not convinced all removal options were considered
John Abbott said there were other options to remove the horses that didn’t involved killing them. (ABC Capricornia: Rachel McGhee)
QPWS said all options for removal of the horses were considered before deciding on an aerial cull, but many locals were not convinced this was the case.
“There were other options; they just chose not to take them,” Mr Abbott said.
Jasmine McCarthy is a horse breeder from Gladstone and she said she was in talks with QPWS before the cull about rehoming some of the brumbies.
“I had trainers who were willing to take them on; I had so far in our efforts 20 homes,” she said.
“I was told it was an all or none deal. If I wanted to save them I had to save them all, and I just didn’t have the capacity.”
Introduced species an ‘Australian icon’
Environment conservationists have long campaigned to cull brumbies in southern states of Australia saying they destroy sensitive environments and native species.
But many Australians label the animal an Australian icon and have fought to see the animal saved.
John and Ann Abbott are spearheading the push to save the remaining brumbies on Curtis Island and want to see a new population management plan in place. (ABC Capricornia: Rachel McGhee)
A recent decision to reverse a planned cull of brumbies in the Snowy Mountains by the New South Wales Government divided the community across New South Wales and Victoria.
University of Queensland threatened species recovery hub research fellow Justine Shaw agreed the removal of wild horses on Curtis Island was needed to protect the native environment.
We know that removing feral animals from islands has really great outcomes for wildlife and for the biodiversity of islands,” Dr Shaw said.
“Horses aren’t native to Curtis Island … their hooves would have an action on the soil that’s not normally there.
“They break up the soil and break off rock, they disrupt seedling recruitment in the forest and vegetation … they also transport weeds.
“Any animal that’s not native that impacts on habitat or forest of threatened species is worthy of removal.”
Despite this, many Curtis Island residents disputed the idea the brumbies were merely pests and argued they were an important part of Australian history.
“Some of the horses here were descendants of the horses that were used by the Queensland first infantry the Light Horse Brigade,” Mr Abbott said.
“They were released here when that shipment didn’t go to the Middle East in World War One and you can quite clearly tell those horses are descendants of the Walers.
“The Walers had historical significance to many of the residents on the island … they were part of the lifestyle over here.”
Environment Minister Leanne Enoch provided a statement that said her department would give her more information about pest management on Curtis Island and that the Member for Gladstone was advocating on behalf of the community about this issue.