Photo credit: Sean Davey

If you could choose to be any pest animal living in an Australian ­alpine national park in 2020, you’d be pretty safe choosing to be a brumby.

You certainly wouldn’t want to be one in northern Australia, where feral horses are routinely culled from helicopter without fuss or fanfare, nor in the ACT, which has a zero-tolerance policy to the animals in its national parks and shoots any border-crossers. You wouldn’t want to be a feral deer, pig, or a goat in the ­alpine national parks. They are on the receiving end of the biggest aerial shooting program in NSW history in response to pressures brought on by last summer’s bushfires, with more than 2000 already dispatched. Dogs, cats and foxes will have to evade 1 million poison baits and ground shooters. But things are pretty safe if you’re a brumby, whose numbers last year were estimated to be 25,000 across the Alps.

Sure, it got a bit dicey last summer when bushfires tore through a third of Kosciuszko National Park, but the horses escaped the fires largely unscathed, concentrating their numbers into the last remaining unburnt patches of habitat shared with the surviving native animals.

So here’s the kicker. In a year when an estimated three billion native animals were killed or displaced by fires, all indications are that we’ll end the year with more feral horses in alpine national parks than we started with.

It wasn’t just bushfire the horses dodged. In February, NSW Environment Minister Matt Kean announced all brumbies would be removed from Nungar Plain, with significant reductions in the Cooleman and Kiandra Plains — areas where numbers were estimated to be about 4000. But so far just 312 have been removed. Of those, the vast majority were rehomed, with 14 going to the knackery and 46 released back into the park. With an annual rate of increase of about 23 per cent, recent NPWS surveys reveal that horse numbers in those northern plains have already risen by nearly 400 on the same time last year, in what’s shaping up to be a bumper foaling season…

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