Assessment of impacts of feral horses (Equus caballus) in the Australian Alps

K. R. Thiele and S. M. Prober – Ecological Interactions | January 1999

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Introduction

Feral Horses in the Australian Alps

The first horses are believed to have arrived in the high country in 1843 when 70 mares and two sires were brought to Black Mountain on the eastern boundary of Victoria’s highlands. The horses were released and never mustered, and the present populations of feral horses in the Cobberas region are thought to be descended from these animals (Allen pers. comm. in Dyring 1990). Similar introductions later occurred on the western fringe of the Monaro Tablelands.

Impacts

Apart from studies by Berman and Jarmann (1988) and Dyring (1990), the environmental impacts of feral horses in Australia have not been well studied, and existing information is largely anecdotal. Overseas studies of impacts are also limited, except for a study of population dynamics and impacts of feral horses in sub-alpine grasslands of the Kaimanawa Mountains on the North Island of New Zealand (Rogers 1991). By comparison with horse impacts, a large body of literature is available regarding the impacts of cattle grazing in the Australian Alps. Some of this may be generalisable to horses.

Proposed Feral Horse Exclusion Project

Aims

  • 1. To compare the effects of removal of grazing with continued grazing by feral horses on:
    • a. Floristic composition and structure of favoured grazing areas (grasslands)
    • b. Streambank condition
  • 2. To monitor recovery of soils and vegetation on tracks, camps, pugged areas and wallows