Australian literature generally concludes that Brumbies cause damage to the environment but these studies are based on correlative data and weak inferences that actually contain evidence supporting the belief that horses can have positive environmental impact.
This positive ecological impact is rarely if ever acknowledged because of the strong belief of Australian environmentalists; that since horses are introduced, heavy hard hoofed animals they must only cause damage in Australia.
Indoctrination that Brumbies are bad
For decades the public has been indoctrinated by Australian schools and universities that Brumbies only cause damage. This doctrine is now pushed by environmental, national park and governments to claim that wild horses “threaten” national park native species.
This deeply embedded indoctrination has now reached fever pitch with frequent calls from environmental lobbyists to shoot large Brumby numbers, and in Victoria, total extermination.
When asked why such mass killing is needed, park managers and environmentalists say it is because Brumbies are not native (i.e. not here before Europeans arrived in 1788) and so, all species not here before 1788 (except post 1788 humans) must be killed to return the park landscape to its “pristine” pre-1788 era.
Such a reply is emotive, not scientific. The pre 1788 “pristine” environment vanished long ago when new settlers ended traditional Aboriginal land management. As a result, within 100 years, flora and fauna introduced by European settlers spread to such an extent that the pre 1788 landscape has changed permanently, for example:
Davis, et al. (2011) argue with regard to this issue that it is “impractical to try to restore ecosystems to some ‘rightful’ historical state … it is time for conservationists to focus much more on the functions of species, and much less on where they originated”.
Laura Verbrugge explains in Implications for Risk Assessment and Management of Non-Native Species (2016):
“Ecological impact criteria, which function as operational guidelines to distinguish between invasive and not invasive, do not always incorporate clear, ‘objective,’ or noncontroversial definitions and quantifiable effect measures. The effectiveness and usefulness of risk assessment procedures have been questioned by Hulme (2012), who states that many lack consistent hazard identification and that risk assessors should be trained to limit cognitive biases.”
And Crystal Fortwangler (2013) in Untangling Introduced and Invasive Animals states:
“We also see through increasing interdisciplinary conversations that soften the disciplinary edges about how to think and what to do (if anything) about introduced species. There are also shifts within disciplines to re-examine long-held dictums”.
Now is the time to reconsider the flaws in Australian Wild Horse studies and learn how wild horses in moderate numbers can be helpful to species in the landscapes they have evolved within.
ABA Sponsored Research
ABA strongly believes it is vital to the environment, the taxpayer and the Brumbies that Government policy and decisions are based on balanced, methodical and rigorous investigation. We are therefore contributing funding to a research project on Alpine Brumbies conducted by the University of Southern Queensland.
Management of feral horses and in fact any potentially overabundant species not only requires measurement of negative impact but also positive impact. There can be unexpected adverse consequences of reduction in the number of feral horses (Dobbie et. al., 1993).
Management of brumbies in the Alpine National Park should aim to minimise any negative impact caused by feral horses and maximise any positive impact. To do this the relationship between impact and feral horse density must be determined (Dobbie et al. 1993); interestingly, this work has never been done in Australia.
The initial study report is being finalised, having experienced several unexpected delays from bushfire and Covid-19 restrictions.
The ABA is now developing the second stage of this study to develop a methodology to quantify appropriate Brumby population density levels suitable to specific area locations.
The University of Southern Queensland – Environmental Impact of Feral Horses in the Australian Alps
What They Don’t Tell You About Wild Horses in the Environment
The Kill and Kill again approach
The concept that we have to kill introduced flora and fauna to allow the “natural/native” landscape to return is not considered feasible or realistic by overseas research.
So far the kill & kill again approach has not worked, as highlighted by Richard Williams, in his chapter in Biodiversity and Environmental Change (CSIRO Publishing, 2014), that states that from the mid 2000s:
- ”the total governmental expenditure on environmental management (across all levels of government) has exceeded $12 billion per year (state of the environment 2006 committee 2006). It is likely to be far higher now”, and
- “Despite this considerable investment and effort, Australia has failed to reduce the rate and scale of biodiversity loss. The reasons why this previous expenditure has not been effective are due, in part, to lack of appropriate information and monitoring”.
Furthermore, since the kill & kill again approach to overabundant species has never worked, we need to replace it by, for example, applying predator cascade management methods to stabilise populations that the ups and downs of constant shooting or poisoning cannot do.
We live in a living, dynamic, ever evolving interactive environmental system. If one part of the system is removed, it cascades throughout the total environment.
No Australian species has gone extinct due to a Brumby presence. Removing them now will break the environmental balance that has evolved over the past 200 years. Those species who now benefit by co-habituating with Brumbies will suffer, especially those species needing short, constant regrowth of fresh green grass Brumby rotational grazing offers, such as the Striated Sun Moth, described in the image below:
More things they don’t tell you….
Beavis, Sara, 2002, Horse Riding in Kosciuszko National Park, A report to Snowy Mountains Horse Riders Association, Centre for Resource and Environmental Studies, Australian National University, Canberra
Beever, Erik, 2003, Management Implications of the Ecology of Free-Roaming Horses in Semi-Arid Ecosystems of the Western United States, Wildlife Society Bulletin (1973-2006) Vol. 31, No. 3 (Autumn, 2003), pp. 887-895 (9 pages)
Beever, E.A. and Herrick, J.E. , 2006, Effects of feral horses in Great Basin landscapes on soils and ants: Direct and indirect mechanisms, Journal of Arid Environments Volume 66, Issue 1, July 2006, Pages 96-112
Colloff, Matthew J., et al., 2013, Ecology and conservation of grassy wetlands dominated by spiny mud grass Pseudoraphis spinescens in the southern Murray–Darling Basin, Australia, Aquatic Conserv: Mar. Freshw. Ecosyst. 24: 238–255 (2014) Published online 13 September 2013 in Wiley Online Library
Connell, Joseph H., 1978, Diversity in Tropical Rain Forests and coral Reefs, Science, New Series, Vol. 199, No. 4335 (Mar. 24, 1978), pp. 1302-1310 (9 pages), American Association for the Advancement of Science
Davis, et al. (2011), Don’t judge species on their origins, 9 June 2011, Vol 474, Naturue, pp 153-154
Dobbie et. al., 1993, Managing Vertebrate Pests: Feral Horses, Australian Government Publishing Service, Canberra
Fahnestock, J.T., Detling, J.K. The influence of herbivory on plant cover and species composition in the Pryor Mountain Wild Horse Range, USA. Plant Ecology 144, 145–157 (1999). https://doi.org/10.1023/A:1009899509067
Fahnestock, Jace T., and Detling, James, 2002, Bison Prairie Dog Plant Interactions in North American Mixed-grass Prairie, June 2002, Oecologia 132(1):86-95
Fortwangler, Crystal, 2013, Untangling Introduced and Invasive Animals, Environment and Society: Advances in Research 4 (2013): 41–59
Gilfedder, L., and Kirkpatrick, J.B., 1994, Climate, Grazing and Disturbance, and the Population Dynamics of Leucochrysum albicans at Ross, Tasmania, Australian Journal of Botany 42(4) 417 – 430
ITRG 2016, Final report of the Independent Technical Reference Group: Supplementary to the Kosciuszko National Park Wild Horse Management Plan, report by the Independent Technical Reference Group to the Office of Environment and Heritage NSW, Sydney.
Linkletter, Wayne L., et al.,2000, Social and spatial structure and range use by Kaimanawa wild horses (Equus caballus: Equidae), New Zealand Journal of Ecology (2000) 24(2): 139-152
Nimmo, Dale Graeme and Miller, Kelly K., 2007, Ecological and human dimensions of management of feral horses in Australia: a review, Wildlife Research, 2007, 34, 408–417, CSIRO Publishing
Ostermann-Kelm, Stacey D. et al., 2009, Impacts of feral horses on a desert environment, BMC Ecology 2009, 9:22, This article is available from: http://www.biomedcentral.com/1472-6785/9/22
Quinn, Adda, 2004, Environmental Aspects of Horses on Trails, American Trails website, https://www.americantrails.org/resources/environmental-aspects-of-horses-on-trails
Redfearn, Sally-Anne, et al., 2011, Detecting stream health impacts of horse riding and 4WD vehicle water crossings in South East Queensland: and event based assessment, Griffiths University October 2011
Rogers, G.M., 1991, Kaimanawa Feral Horses and their Environmental Impacts, New Zealand Journal of Ecology (1991) 15(1): 49-64
Schultz, Nick L., et al., 2011, Effects of grazing exclusion on plant species richnessand phytomass accumulation vary across a regionalproductivity gradient, Journal of Vegetation Science22(2011) 130–142
Snowy Scientific Committee, 2008, Adequacy of environmental releases to the Snowy River, Report No. 1 Prepared for the Water Ministerial Administration Corporation, October 2008, Canberra
Stroh, Peter A., et al., 2012, The potential for endozoochorous dispersal of temperate fen plant species by free-roaming horses, Applied Vegetation Science Vol. 15, No. 3 (August 2012), pp. 359-368
Verbrugge, Laura, 2016, Metaphors in Invasion Biology: Implications for Risk Assessment and Management of Non-Native Species, September 2016 Ethics Policy & Environment 19(3):1-12
Williams, Richard, et al., 2014, Alpine ecosystems, in Biodiversity and Environmental Change (CSIRO Publishing, 2014)
Willig, M.R. , et al., 2018, Latitudinal Gradients of Biodiversity: Pattern, Process, Scale, and Synthesis, Annual Review of Ecology, Evolution, and Systematics Vol. 34:273-309 (Volume Publication date November 2003) First published online as a Review in Advance on July 11, 2003
Zalba, Sergio M., and Cozzani, Natalia C., 2004, The impact of feral horses on grassland bird communities in Argentina, Animal Conservation (2004)7, 35–44, The Zoological Society of London.
Community Perception Surveys of Wild Horse Values
Information on community perceptions of wild horses in Australia span from social media discussion, snapshot polls (usually during a controversy over a cull) to more detailed investigations.
In 2019, concerned about the Victorian’s push to eradicate Brumbies in the Alpine regions (and particularly the Bogong High Plains), ABA commissioned a survey of public perceptions of Victorian alpine area Brumbies.
The results were generally congruent with ABA goals and core values of retaining sustainably managed populations of wild horses in National Parks.
Most respondents valued Brumby heritage, were concerned about the environment but would support further research and the retention of small herds if there was little environmental impact.
Interestingly, survey report to Parks Victoria, while coming from a different angle, yielded similar results.
Market Research Conducted on Public Perceptions of Wild Horses
The Brumbies Report
– Prepared for Six O’clock Advisory on behalf of the Australian Brumby Alliance
A 5-question online study was conducted amongst members of a permission based panel. After interviewing, data was weighted to the latest population estimates sourced from the Australian Bureau of Statistics.
The study was conducted among 1,006 Victorians aged 18+Surveys were distributed throughout Victoria including both capital city and non-capital city areas as shown on the next page.
This study aimed to uncover people’s knowledge of and opinions regarding the Brumbies population in the high plains and alpine regions of Victoria, Australia. Fieldwork commenced on 13thMay, and was completed on 18th May, 2019
Key top level results showed that:
- 4 in 5 (82%) Victorians believe that Brumbies are an important part of Australia’s history to preserve.
- The majority of Victorians are concerned about the potential environmental impact of wild Brumbies on the alpine regions (52%; cf. not concerned 48%)
- A strong majority, more than 4 in 5 (84%), of Victorians would support further research into the impact of other wild animals, extreme weather events, or humans on the Bogong High Plains
- 9 in 10 (88%) of Victorians would support efforts to preserve a small herd of Brumbies living in the wild if there was little evidence of impact on their negative environmental impact on the Bogong High Plains.
MICROMEX report to Parks Victoria December 2012
PV Perceptions WH-MICROMEX Dec2012
Other Research Around the World
- Reintroduced Przewalski’s horses have a different dietResearchers have now found through tail hair analysis that before their extinction in the wild Przewalski’s horses had been on a different diet than today. Thanks to improved societal attitude, the horses have now access to richer pastures. In former times, the wild horses were hunted and chased away. ….More Continue reading
- Pioneer of PZP in Wild Horses Dies at 75PZP has been used in fertility control programs in the United States since 1989. Through the years, advances in PZP and other fertility control vaccines have improved delivery and efficacy making them a more viable alternative to lethal control methods. Jay Kirkpatrick was arguably the most influential person in the development of this humane method… Continue reading
- The Secret Lives of Horses (from Scientific American)Scientists have long studied the best ways to train and treat domesticated horses, but they largely ignored the behavior of free-ranging horses. Recent research has begun to fill that gap. Observations from long-term studies of wild horses show that the conventional, male-centric view of their power dynamics is wrong. In fact, females often call… Continue reading
- Genes link wild horses in Western Canada to Siberian BreedA genetic study of a remote population of wild horses in Western Canada has posed a raft of new questions about their origins, with the results revealing an intriguing link to the Yakut horses of Siberia. It is assumed that the horses observed by European fur traders in the early 1800s in association with Tsilhqot’in… Continue reading
- Research reveals domestication’s effects on horse genesA study, carried out by scientists at the University of Copenhagen’s Center for GeoGenetics, detailed some 125 genes related to physical and behavioral traits favored by humans. By comparing the genomes of modern domesticated horse varieties to DNA sampled from now-extinct wild horse species, researchers were able to isolate genes that control skeletal muscles, balance,… Continue reading