On 19 December 2018, Defence completed a cull of feral horses in the Singleton Training Area, in accordance with environmental policy and relevant codes of practice.
Wild horses are considered feral animals due to the environmental damage they cause and the threat they pose to native flora and fauna. Their presence in an environment is listed as a key threatening process under the Environmental Protection Biodiversity and Conservation Act 1999 (EPBC Act). As part of managing an environmentally sustainable estate, Defence regularly undertakes feral animal control measures.
In addition to impacting the environment, the feral horses in the Singleton Training Area presented a safety risk. Feral horses were increasingly sighted on roads within the Training Area and attempting to move onto public roads, endangering the safety of the public and Defence personnel through the risk of vehicle collisions.
Defence undertook a number of lethal and non-lethal trials and feasibility assessments to control the feral horse population at Singleton Training Area over a 10‑year period. Control options were limited because the feral horses primarily resided in a remote, explosive impact area which poses a significant safety risk to anyone on foot and is effectively out of bounds. This restricted the possibility of rounding up the feral horses and relocating them off the range.
Defence undertook re‑homing trials in 2014 in participation with a relevant local Association. These trials were unsuccessful due to the low capture rate of feral horses and challenges in handling horses that had lived in an area where live ammunition was regularly used. Ground shooting, undertaken from the boundary of the explosive impact area, also proved unsuccessful because the size of the inaccessible area left the animals largely out of range. As a result, Defence’s efforts to control the population of feral horses within the Training Area have not kept pace with the rate at which their population was growing.
Following the limited success of alternative management methods, Defence determined that an aerial cull, carried out in accordance with the relevant codes of practice by experienced, qualified and licensed civilian contractors, was the most appropriate method for the humane control of the horses on the Training Area. The aerial culling was consistent with the findings for the effective and humane control of feral horses set out in the Final report of the Independent Technical Reference Group: Supplementary to the Kosciuszko National Park Wild Horse Management Plan (2016). This report considered best practice methods for the control of feral horses and was commissioned by the New South Wales Office of Environment and Heritage. The report was authored by an Independent Technical Reference Group, comprising subject matter experts including the Chief Executive Officer of the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (RSPCA).
The feral horse cull was undertaken and completed on 19 December 2018. Two verification flights were undertaken on 20 December 2018 with no live horses sighted.
A local representative from the RSPCA undertook physical inspections during the activity and confirmed that it complied with the standard operating procedure for the aerial control of horses and the model code of practice for the humane control of feral horses.
Defence recognises that not everyone will agree on how feral horses should be managed. This management activity was, however, conducted in accordance with environmental policy and relevant codes of practice to humanely remove a threat to both personnel using the Training Area and the environment.