Position Statement: Feral Horses (Brumbies) in the Victorian High Country

Frogs Victoria Society July 2020

Invasive and feral species* are among the most significant threats to biodiversity worldwide. The Australian ecosystem is particularly threatened by the impacts of feral species due to its fragile, unique biota that evolved separately from the rest of the world.

The Australian continent existed without hooved mammals for some 20 million years, and native ecosystems are not adapted to the destructive forces of hooved feet. Hooved animals can be catastrophic to native vegetation and landscapes, and the animals that depend on them. Abundant evidence, including peer reviewed science, shows that feral animals, including horses (Equus caballus), degrade habitats and compete with native animals for space and resources. In addition to fast and catastrophic degradation, the harsh climate and shallow soils in most alpine habitats mean that they, and the threatened species that live there, are slow to recover. There are ongoing programs targeting most feral and invasive species in national parks, but effective control of feral horses has been prevented or hampered, resulting in rapidly worsening impacts to ecosystems and frog habitats in the High Country.

Feral horses are a threat to critically endangered frogs such as Corroboree Frogs and have been documented to damage the habitat of threatened species such as Growling Grass Frogs in Barmah National Park. In Victoria’s Alpine National Park they are damaging the habitat of threatened frog species such as the Alpine Tree Frog and Dendy’s Toadlet.

Our natural heritage is extremely valuable, and the needs and protection of native ecosystems supersedes perceived Austral-European cultural heritage. Amphibian species are threatened with extinction worldwide, domestic horses are not. In areas where threatened frog species live, their well-being should be prioritised and feral horses should be removed by whatever means deemed most humane by authorities. If we do not act to remove feral animals, we may lose some of our native animals and plants in the near future.  

The Australian landscape and its native inhabitants have never been so threatened. They are remnants of the once biodiverse habitats that thrived prior to European colonisation, anthropogenic climate change (with associated fires) and emergent diseases. Effective control of feral species can help frogs to survive other threats. Our natural heritage needs our help more than ever and we need to act quickly.

Frogs Victoria July 2020

Footnote: Frogs Vic would also like to recognise the indigenous Australians to whom the Australian Alps have cultural significance. Although this is outside of the scope of our amphibian-centric expertise, we acknowledge the importance of the land to traditional owners.

*Invasive species are non-native species that have persisted and spread since their introduction (deliberate or accidental) by human activities.

Feral species are escaped domesticated species living in the wild.

(Note: sometimes “feral” and “naturalised” are used interchangeably with “invasive”)  

Dendy’s Toadlet, Alpine Tree Frog and Southern Coroboree Frog are three species we stand to lose due to habitat destruction by feral horses (second from left)

Further Information:

Feral horses and frogs:

Feral-horse impacts on Corroboree Frog habitat in the Australian Alps By Foster and Scheele 2019

Feral horses in Australia:

Australian Brumby Alliance Inc v Parks Victoria Inc [2020] FCA 605 Federal Court Report May 2020

Feral horse impacts on threatened plants and animals in sub‐alpine and montane environments in Victoria, Australia By Cherubin et al 2019 in Ecological Management and Restoration

Feral horses in the Australian Alps, Ecological Management & Restoration Special Issue 2019

Horse Activity is Associated with Degraded Subalpine Grassland Structure and Reduced Habitat for a Threatened Rodent By Eldridge et al 2019 in Rangeland Ecology & Management

Assessing the Impacts of Feral Horses on the Bogong High Plains, Victoria By Tolsma and Shannon, DELWP 2018 a client report for Parks Victoria

Assessment of animal welfare for helicopter shooting of feral horses By Hampton et al 2017 in Wildlife Research

Feral horses worldwide:

Feral horse activity reduces environmental quality in ecosystems globally By Eldridge et al 2020

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