Wildlife experts have warned a minimum of 6000 wild brumbies need to be killed each year in order for the NSW government to reduce its feral horse population at Kosciuszko National Park.
The state has a target of reducing the number of the animal to 3000 by 2027, with the current population estimated to be between 14,501 and 23,535.
Speaking at a Senate inquiry into the impact and management of feral horses in the Australian Alps, Invasive Species Council advocacy manager Jack Gough said current removal at rates about 1000 horses a year would only result in the population increasing to 32,000 by June 2027.
While removing 2800 horses a year would keep the population stable, a significant 6000 brumbies would have to be killed annually over the next four years for NSW to reach its 3000 target by 2027.
Mr Gough described the pest as “the final nail in the coffin” which could send at least 21 native species extinct. The hard hoofs of the horses were also damaging to the park’s delicate Alpine terrain.
“We are seeing a national park being turned into a horse paddock,” he said.
“At the moment the techniques that are on offer and the level of resourcing that’s there is not allowing us to do that, and the impacts are obvious.”
His comments come as the NSW government is seeking advice around amending laws to allow aerial shooting to control feral horses. This would be combined with existing methods such as trapping, rehoming and ground shooting.
While submissions are open until September 11, the move has received support from politicians across the aisles, including the Greens.
Mr Gough said adding aerial control was needed to help control species. Similar intervention on feral pig species had culled number by 102,000 in 2022 alone, he added.
“We should not be protecting feral animals in a national park. That is something that should be accepted by everyone,” he said.
“We’ve set this area aside for future generations is an area that needs to be managed and protected for future generations.”
Nature Conservation Council of NSW spokesman Clancy Barnard said the general public have acknowledged the importance of managing wild horses numbers.
“No one likes to see animals killed, but the sad reality is that you have a choice to make with urgently reducing the number of feral horses or accepting the destruction and its impact on ecosystems and habitats,” he said.
Earlier this month, NSW Environmental Minister Penny Sharpe said feral horses were affecting native flora and fauna, such as the threatened northern and southern corroboree frog, broad-toothed rat and the she-oak skink.
She said current methods would not result in the Kosciuszko National Park meeting its 2027 target.
“We have an obligation to save these native animals, but we only have a limited window of opportunity to do so. If they become extinct, they are lost forever,” she said.
Wednesday’s Senate inquiry will continue to examine how the Commonwealth government can use its powers through the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act (EPBC Act) to enact better measures to control wild horses.
It will also consider the adequacy of state and territory laws and programs in regards to the management of the invasive species.