Brumby cannibalism claims fly in mountain debate

Two ANU researchers say they have encountered starving brumbies eating the innards of another brumby, thought to have died three days earlier, prompting an outcry from the pro-wild horse lobby's leader, Peter Cochran.

Mr Cochran is accusing Dr Don Driscoll and Dr Sam Banks of academic terrorism for claiming Snowy Mountains brumbies are cannibals.

These brumbies were seen with their snouts inside the abdominal cavity of a dead horse.
These brumbies were seen with their snouts inside the abdominal cavity of a dead horse. Photo: Supplied

Writing on the The Conversation website the two researchers present a grisly image:

"At Dead Horse Gap we encountered three brumbies standing calmly in the snow among the curly tree trunks. The brumbies did not flee as we quietly approached for a close encounter.

"The emaciated horses ribs and bony hips were protruding, and their skin sagging.

"A few steps closer and we could see a fourth horse lying dead on the ground. Two of the horses had their snouts inside its gaping abdominal cavity, nibbling at what little remained of its digestive tract."


The article is complemented by a YouTube presentation from the researchers.

They say consequences of a NSW National Parks decision to stop culling by aerial shooting, choosing instead to trap horses using lures and mustering, caused horses to starve, and forced them to scavenge the digestive tracts of their fallen comrades. 

The issue has become contentious while NSW National Parks Service and Wildlife Service reviews its wild horse management strategy in the mountains.

Mr Cochran, who is president of Snowy Mountains Bush Users Group, said the horses were caught in a big snow dump, couldn't get out and one died. National Parks and farmers in the mountains knew they were there.

One woman on skis with hay on her back had tried to feed them. Eventually National Parks destroyed the remaining three horses.

"It was all under control. There was not a damn thing we could do for them," Mr Cochran said.

"The claims are the most ridiculous I've ever seen. Nonsense. They were caught after the first big snow, driven down wind into snow drifts and couldn't get out."

Mr Cochran said when horses died their mates came around to mourn them, and sniffed them.

He said the academics' claims were broadcast widely overseas, embarrassing Australians. 

"While the headline may draw attention to their extreme views on horse management in the KNP, it is also designed to incite fear and terror in visitors to the Snowy Mountains, portraying the horses as wild meat eaters and a threat to bushwalkers and other visitors," Mr Cochran said..

"This type of academic terrorism undermines the credibility of the author and therefore the ANU presumably at taxpayers' expense."

Mr Cochran said universities were crying poor and it seemed incredible they should invest their staff time and resources in attempting to prove an acknowledged herbivorous animal was omnivorous.

Dr Driscoll said the trips to the Snowy were self-funded and not ANU trips, and videos were made on weekends in their own time. 

"I presume that tourists would be aware that cannibalism means organisms that eat their own species; clearly no threat to humans," Dr Driscoll said, referring to Mr Cochran's comments. 

In a statement, the ANU said it held no views on the issues Dr Don Driscoll and Dr Sam Banks explored. 

"Academic freedom means that researchers have the right to challenge and discuss issues, and, as a matter of policy, ANU academic staff are encouraged to engage with the public and participate in open debate in areas in which they have academic expertise. "

Dr Banks is overseas. Writing on-line he says whether readers choose to believe this report is not the important issue.

"Our article summarises research on horse numbers in Kosciuszko National Park and their environmental impacts. These surveys have shown that horse numbers have increased dramatically over recent years and that the current horse management strategy has been unsuccessful in controlling their abundance."