The Australian government has announced a plan to cull almost 90% of the wild horses, known as brumbies, in its alpine region. The number of brumbies is proposed to be reduced from 6,000 to 600 in Kosciusko National Park in New South Wales in the next 20 years. The famous Snowy Mountains horses were brought to Australia by British settlers over 200 years ago.
Critics have called the move "horrific". While the government has rejected cruel methods of culling, such as aerial shooting from helicopters or allowing locals to round up the horses using ropes, other ways involving ground shooting, trapping, mustering and population control are acceptable.
Mark Speakman, the state's environment minister, said the horses cause damage to the fragile ecosystem and harm native wildlife. "Horses are an introduced species that are competing with Australia's native animals and flora in the national park and their numbers are out of control," the Telegraph reported.
"There are diverse opinions in the community and often deeply held views, which polarise stakeholder groups," Speakman told the media.
Though the brumbies are said to be descendants of mares and stallions, they are spread across Australia, and make up the largest population of wild horses in the world. They were originally introduced and used as war-horses during World Wars I and II. They took part in the opening ceremony of the Sydney Olympics in 2000.
The wild horses have been featured in Australian folklore, and are an important part of Australia's history.
The president of the Save the Brumbies campaign group, Jan Carter, said: "They are our culture, they are an icon, and they deserve to have protection, and above all they deserve to have humane handling," the Australian Broadcasting Corporation reported.
Angry activists have started filing petitions requesting the government to stop the proposed killing of horses.