Plans to cull a burgeoning number of feral horses or brumbies has caused a storm, particularly on social media.
The Victorian and NSW governments claim that the number of horses has reached a level where damage is being caused to the fragile alpine environment. Not so, says a large vocal group who claim the horses are part of Australia's heritage and should be allowed to roam free.
NSW and Victorian governments say horse numbers in the Australian alps have gone from 9187 in 2014 to 25,318 in 2019 and are growing at a rate of 23 per cent a year. This has not deterred activists, who claim the figures are not right and have been rigged by government departments, however, at this stage they have not put forward any verifiable alternative figures.
If the rate of increase is even close to correct horse numbers could be 50,000 in four years. This would be unchartered territory on a grand scale.
It is hard not to be drawn in by the romanticism of legends like The Man from Snowy River and being able to conjure up visions of majestic horses at full gallop or in groups grazing peacefully on grass that abounds in kind seasons.
Opposing the governments are dedicated groups that have set out to save the brumbies supported by urban animal lovers who believe that killing any animal is a mortal sin.
Also, some of those leading the charge to protect the brumbies have felt the pain of governments taking away their right to graze the high plains with cattle and never will the twain meet. They are prepared to spend their last dollar to rip it up what they see as ill-informed governments that are bending to the wishes of the environmental lobby. Put simply, the Greens. And they, the Greens, are an anathema in the mountains.
Usually, animal lovers and environmentalists share the same platform, however, not on this occasion.
In the mix here are hardliners that have managed the brumby population down the years by trapping and removing. Some are rehomed and others are processed. In Victoria, there is a group that wants brumbies rehomed hundreds of kilometres away which is counter to the argument of leaving them alone.
Even the RSPCA have chimed in declaring that the numbers need to be reduced, however, they stipulate forcibly that any culling must be professional and humane. A spokesperson is reported to have said, "Feral horses are not a natural part of the Australian ecosystem and can cause severe damage to alpine and sub-alpine environments, including the destruction of habitat critical to many native wildlife and plant species."
It seems that in the past high country graziers managed brumby numbers as they competed with livestock for feed. Now no longer do they have the right to graze cattle so the horses have bred unfettered. In the past, graziers had little time for feral horses that apart from competing for feed they also wrecked fences. Around 80 years ago some graziers are reported to have called on the government to let them use machine guns to control them.
In the Barmah Forest several years ago during flooding, we saw images of starving and dying horses. Let us hope that in the highly charged debate human intransigence does not mean that horses suffer. Maybe the argument of being in the wrong place at the wrong time will haunt the brumbies.
The pro-brumby forces have claimed that feral deer have damaged the environment far greater than horses.
There has been an explosion in deer numbers in recent years, which is quite amazing as they only produce one fawn a year. They carry disease, destroy young trees and spread weeds.
In the Adelaide Hills, feral deer are spreading wild olive trees that are seriously competing with native flora species. After consuming olives, they vomit up the seeds into a depression they have scratched in the soil. This along with their manure and even light rain is a perfect germination seedbed.
The deer are eating the fruit in the thousands and the problem is out of control.
A spokesperson said: "They tell us that humans started cultivating olives about 6000 years ago, but I suspect the fallow deer have been doing it a lot longer than that."