Photo credit: Ricky French

Richard Swain stands near a small mountain spring that is the source of the Murray River, and has two words to say: “It’s disgusting.”

Picking his way between the piles of horse manure, the Snowy Mountains river guide and indigenous ambassador for the Invasive Species Council struggles to find a patch of ground not trampled or eaten by feral horses.

The latest survey of feral horse numbers across the Australian Alps estimates the population has exploded from 9180 in 2014 to 25,318 this year, an increase of 23 per cent a year. In Kosciuszko National Park alone the number is thought to be about 20,000.

Our most famous alpine national park — the subject of conjecture and cultural clashes since the day of its inception — is galloping towards a tipping point, its conservation values fast being trampled under the unchecked hoofs of feral animals.

But if the image of the brumby, running majestic and free in the high country, is built on folklore, then the justification for allowing more than 25,000 of them to propagate on fragile public land now must be recognised similarly as the stuff of fantasy.

“I care for country and these animals don’t belong here,” says Swain.

“They’re sending animals that do call this place home extinct. For every dead horse we’re going to see this summer through starvation, that horse has already eaten the resources that our native animals rely upon.”

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