29 Apr Brumbies: it’s our responsibility to find a solution
Brumbies are wild horses. Whilst adult brumbies don’t have any natural predators, populations are threatened by drought, food scarcity and parasites with very few wild horses reaching their maximum life span of 20 years. Much like the horses we keep as companions; brumbies are intelligent and social creatures with a strong awareness of their surroundings, including potential threats.
The overpopulation of brumbies contributes to the damaging of vegetation structure including plant biomass and soil stability. Some herds exist in the same environments as already threatened species or ecosystems and competition for food sources in Alpine regions poses grave consequences for both brumbies and native species.
Through the 180 years that horses have been present on Australian mountains, they have also adapted as a species to their environment and visa versa. Where environmental degradation from brumbies is demonstrated, non-lethal control measures should be implemented. It is important here that environmental damage can be clearly exhibited and for this, much more research is needed. To small groups of brumbies posing minimal threat to natural systems – management through capture should be reconsidered.
The current killing campaigns in some states impose horrific suffering on these animals by implementing aerial shooting by helicopter or poisoning on land. These methods often have extremely cruel outcomes not only for the animals directly targeted, but those who may endure injuries during efforts to escape. Foals can become separated from their mothers and if dependent, may also endure prolonged suffering.
Humane control of breeding has proven successful in wild horse and other species populations for over two decades. Not only does it offer a humane alternative to lethal control but it may also prove to be more effective than aerial shooting. Targets from helicopters are often missed leading to unsuccessful culls, which allow populations to re establish.
In larger populations of brumbies, fertility control should be used in conjunction with the capture and re-homing of existing herds. Brumbies can be humanely captured through a process known as ‘passive trapping’. The erection of portable pens within brumby environments encourages safe use through food baits. Once brumbies are familiar with the new environment, pens are closed for the initiation of rehoming.
Although experts have proven rehoming of wild brumbies to be successful, rehoming groups struggle to cover the costs associated with transport, feed, gelding and vet bills.
Rehoming services often rely on donations and adoption fees to continue their work. As the process takes time and resources, programs must set manageable limits to allow rescues adequate time and to avoid euthenasia.
As with all animals including humans, brumbies are individuals and each take to the handling process differently. Adequate time must be spent to ensure this is a humane process for the horse involved. The settling in process can take up to a few weeks or more and is dependent on an individual’s experience in the wild as well as the capture and transport methods used. Many people who eventually adopt brumbies find that they thrive in domestic environments.
So often, our immediate response to species control is eradication. We forget how the problem began and in turn our responsibility for a solution. Almost always, we choose efficiency and ignore suffering – this is either intensified or relaxed depending on our relationship to certain species. We all have a responsibility to protect and enrich our environment without the use of violence and this is the message we should consistently send. Put simply, we owe it to animals to work harder.