Calls for immunocontraceptives to be used in wild horse control

The NSW Upper House has backed immunocontraceptives on wild horse as a humane and effective method of reducing wild horse numbers over the long term. Photo: Michelle J.

The upper house of NSW last week moved that it would call on the Government to pursue a trial of immunocontraceptives on wild horses in the state to address population issues in Kosciuszko National Park.

A 2019 survey estimates that the wild horse population in the KNP has grown in the last five years, from 9190 horses in 2014 to over 25,000 in 2019. 

These numbers are heavily debated by brumby advocates, especially following the Black Summer bushfires. Environment Minister Matt Kean recently announced that a recount of horse numbers would be brought forward, following increased pressure from the Deputy Premier.

Speaking to the upper house last Wednesday, Animal Justice Party politician Emma Hurst said that immunocontraceptives – a vaccine which renders a female unable to reproduce – will be a “critical tool in humanely and effectively reducing wild horse numbers, particularly in the long term.”

“Researchers from the CSIRO such as Dr Lyn Hinds have acknowledged that a trial of immunocontraceptives on horses in Australia is warranted, and yet there has been no investment by the New South Wales Government into trials. It begs the question: How are immunocontraceptives ever going to be ready to be utilised in New South Wales if we do not at least start the research?” she said. 

“Delaying the trials means that the Government will continue to cause stress and controversy by sending more horses to knackeries, rather than change the process to humane fertility control.”

Ms Hurst said that trials must start now to stop the “horrific deaths” of wild horses and to protect native animals who “remain at threat.”

Matthew Mason-Cox MLC said that Ms Hurst is “on the money” with this proposal, throwing the support of the Liberal Party behind her motion.

He said that as the community and scientific advisory panels continue to advise on a management plan as per the Wild Horse Heritage Act, National Parks and Wildlife Services (NPWS) will consider reproductive control of wild horses.

“At this stage the science tells us that reproductive control alone will not substantially reduce the wild horse population in the short term to medium term. Other control methods will be required to reduce those negative impacts,” Mr Mason-Cox said.

“The Government supports the future use of reproductive control to maintain the wild horse population once we have reached sustainable levels.”

The Greens also threw their support behind the motion, with Cate Faehrmann MLC saying the party also supports the Government taking “urgent measures” to reduce wild horse numbers in the KNP.

Labor too supported the motion.

“What I like about today is the fact that we have actually come to an agreement that we can all work with,” Penny Sharpe MLC said.

“It gets us some of the way and recognises that there is no one method that can control feral horses, but we should be trying the most humane methods that we can.”

Ms Sharpe maintained that horse numbers should be reduced “faster than this pilot is going to be able to do,” but that it is a “good start.”

Ms Hurst thanked the members for their support and the motion was passed. She acknowledged that from an animal welfare perspective, the motion is “still not fantastic.”

“Flying around in helicopters, chasing horses, darting them and rendering them infertile is still not a perfect solution. It still has welfare issues attached to it, but we have moved the motion in its current form because after doing the research we think that is the best compromise,” she concluded.