by Mae Lee Sun
(original published on December 12, 2015, under the title ‘The Moral Imperative To Evolve’” on the New South Wales Office of Environment and Heritage webpage under Share Your Story in response to the Kosciuzko National Park wild horse management plan)
The Snowy Mountain wilderness thrives where the brumbies have evolved and adapted alongside other species and make a positive contribution to the land and people to include bush fire mitigation and humus and soil building as post-gastric digesters. Photo: Mae Lee Sun
It’s ironic that in the land downunder, which birthed permaculture- a holistic form of land management that focuses on ecological design meant to regenerate and integrate all of life, there also exists a backlash toward the land by those who claim to protect it. Thus is a case of environmental thinking gone wrong when wild horses are caught in the middle. ‘Brumbies’ evolved not only to survive but also thrive in varied habitats across this island continent, yet they continue to be patently maligned by environmental groups and ill-informed, mis-informed and head-in-the-sand ecologists. The vibrant Equus caballus, an ancient global species that evolved over the past 55 million years to what we know as the ‘horse’ today, has become a mere target species rather than acknowledged as a sentient being caught in a political war among those who seek to define and determine the use of land.
Robert Fisk, winner of the Amnesty International UK Press Award and the Lannan Prize for Cultural Freedom stated in a recent talk on Australian Alternative Radio:
“Words are a contested battlefield. Propagandists long ago figured out if you control the vocabulary you could dominate any debate or issue, conflict or war.”
Thus goes the debate, issue, conflict and war on the wild horse in Australia which has been labelled a ‘feral pest’ by environmental extremists, rendering it an enemy of the State to be harassed, tortured and slaughtered at will. The horses don’t seem to stand a chance with such obviously biased media reporting and dodgy science, which is bent solely on proving ‘damage’ to the exclusion of all positive contributions. Their point is to convince the public and those who oversee the Parks that, however minute the perceived disturbances to a habitat, such will result in the collapse of the ecosystem, whether lower river or alpine meadow, etc.
Much to these extremists’ chagrin, the ecosystem of KNP continues to thrive with those very same horses whose ancestry on the land dates back two hundred years. Alarm bells should be going off that reverberate through the mighty Snowy Mountains themselves as well as in the halls of academia and environmental consulting offices in Australia when science lacks rigour and objectivity and only canned, government-funded responses are put forth!
Moreover, it’s interesting that worldwide, scientific studies have shown a quite benign side to wild horse ecology. Environmental managers in as varied and ecologically sensitive regions as Australia, Europe, and Pleistocene Park, Siberia, and in the Namib, have adopted a holistic approach to public and private land management that includes more and varied species, including equids (members of the horse family) to increase the biodiversity, acknowledging it is not the animals but the humans who have mismanaged and misunderstood correct governing and management of ecosystems.
Recently, I embarked on an expedition in my capacity as a journalist into a brumby-inhabited area, and was accompanied by a multidisciplinary team including local graziers, an experienced wildlife ecologist named Craig C. Downer who specialises in the order perissodactyla, Parks personnel, bushmen and horseriders, and a former politician. We witnessed no widespread damage or irreversible impact and in fact the very opposite- a thriving and healthy ecosystem that even several catastrophic fires have not managed to destroy let alone wild horses. The signage at various pullouts along the Snow Mountain highway point to the changing ecosystem via the creation of the Dam, which has changed the flow rate and course of the Snowy River, and it’s tributaries. We drank the fresh water directly from tributaries and walked and drove along the rugged 4×4 tracks and only caught sight of brumbies when we diligently and purposely looked for them. They were very sparse.
At a recent workshop I attended on local flora it was shocking to hear young people who were studying ecology in University talk about damage by horses without ever having been exposed or visited the region. When questioned, their response was that this is what their professors told them-that invasives are causing the decline of species. A chat with locals from the area, discussions with aboriginal people the world over, and non-biased scientists I’ve interviewed have all confirmed that there is much more to wild horse ecology than meets the eye. Mitigation of bushfires is one significant effect of brumbies to which Australia should pay attention.
Yet there is something profoundly more important than this: we must carefully examine any discussion that disregards the place of horses in the wild and also that refuses to include consciousness and sentience in non-human animals as a germane issue. The latter deals with violence and suffering that is imposed by humanity upon highly evolved and sentient beings. Sentience and consciousness has been established in many species we relate to and are familiar with to include whales, dolphins, elephants, tigers, sharks – all whom conservation groups, rightly so, acknowledge that it is an aberration to kill these beings and in fact are out to vehemently protect them. To overlook such points reveals more about human aberration and callousness and the need to change this!
As an independent journalist with a specific interest in the issue of wild horse ecology, green issues, and technology, I have experience working with endangered species on an international level and presented a report on this at a C.I.T.I.E.S. sponsored conference in Asia. This conference sought to find alternatives to commercial use of endangered animals. I sought out the expertise of the best, most forward-thinking researchers/scientists in the world and interviewed them on the brumby situation. It was not surprising to me that they have unanimously expressed deep concern over the use of wild horses as a scapegoat for human problems and limitation. Unanimously, they have called aerial shooting and culling ‘barbaric’.
We have five horses on our property and my brumby ‘Trooper’ is one of them. Rescued at the last minute as a foal from the slaughterhouse after a capture and removal operation in KNP, he is the most switched on and intelligent member of the herd, the most trainable, the most friendly and the one with the spark in his big brown eyes from having years of natural selection and evolution on his side. It saddens me that he is in a domestic situation given the vital contribution wild horses make. Though I remain committed to his lifelong care, still I feel it is my moral obligation to bring to light the horrendous damage and suffering that humans have created in KNP and other parks. This they have done, by introducing animals, with no sensitivity to the local ecosystem and then by torturing these same animals simply because they are struggling to achieve some harmony and balance, as is the nature of all of life.
The emotional and social bond between Australian Brumby ‘Trooper’ and his mate ‘Elsie’ is undeniable. Much like elephants, the herd structure of horses is complex, with all members playing a role in caring for young, ensuring safe passage, finding food and water, mutual grooming and socialising. Photo: Mae Lee Sun
People need to call upon their moral sense and courage in order to identify solutions that will enable myriad forms of life to thrive in harmony. Since we now have an altered ecosystem due to European man’s interventions and introductions, we should imaginatively and knowledgeably try to harmonize all these elements, rather than to declare war on certain conveniently identified scapegoats, often wrongly accused as a way of shirking our human responsibility.
I agree with Robert Fisk’s assertion that as journalists, when we confront situations where there is clearly a blatant inequity in power, our role is not be to objective, we must “stand up for those who suffer” and I would hasten to add: are wrongfully accused.