Beware the cannibal horses of Kosciuszko!

Yesterday a story appeared on academic news site The Conversation about cannibal brumbies. Well, that was the attention-grabbing headline, though only the opening paragraphs were about how the feral horses of Dead Horse Gap are so starved that they are eating partially digested food from the intestinal tracts of their fallen comrades.* The rest of the article went on to cover now-familiar terrain around the increasing population of wild horses in the High Country, and the environmental threats they pose, though the authors – both ecologists based at ANU – took a slightly different approach by emphasising that culling would prevent future generations of horses from having to suffer and starve.

The authors clearly support the re-introduction of aerial culling, with Don Driscoll stating that “Aerial culling is a win-win for animal ethics and for the environment.” [1] The figures produced by the authors, calculated using a ten-year projection and based on current population numbers, present a stark future for wild horses without aerial culling.

Figures developed by Don Driscoll and Sam Banks, charting future horse populations projected over a 10-year period

Figures developed by Don Driscoll and Sam Banks, charting future horse populations projected over a 10-year period when implementing various management strategies

This alternative perspective, which, while supporting culling, also clearly prioritises the welfare of the horses, generated some interesting discussion in the comments section. Given the academic nature and readership of the site, there were only a few comments around the significance of the brumbies to Australia’s national character that usually appear time and time again in such discussions, while other issues raised included what would drive a horse to cannibalism, whether or not what these horses were doing could actually be classified as cannibalism, and what constitutes ‘native’ flora and fauna.

It will be interesting to see if culling from an animal welfare perspective, rather than an environmental management one, will make the prospect more acceptable to brumby advocates.

Meanwhile, I anticipate a cannibal horse movie, in the same vein as Black Sheep, coming to a cinema screen soon!

* At this point a four-minute video was embedded into the article, whereby the authors recount for the camera, and via background photographs, their ‘grim discovery’ in the snow. I’m not sure if it was deliberately ironic, but the clip’s title and credits are in red ‘Chiller’ font, and the suspenseful violin soundtrack were both quite amusing


[1] Don Driscoll, comment made in reply to ‘Massey Farms’


3 thoughts on “Beware the cannibal horses of Kosciuszko!

  1. I hadn’t watched the video until prompted by your description… the opening title is an experience in itself! On closer examination though I think that these might not be the same horses that I spotted at Dead Horse Gap, as they’re in a different spot, and there were only three alive when we left (and the dead horse in the video was not the one we saw). So that indicates quite a number of brumbies starved this last winter.

    • And yet they all seem to congregate at a place named ‘Dead Horse Gap’. Perhaps the nomenclature indicates something – whether it’s that brumbies frequent this place in greater numbers, it is a ‘last resort’ location, or something to do with the geology? Not having been there I don’t know, but the name certainly seems to be echoing the current situation!

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