The Central Land Council of Australia's Northern Territory started on Wednesday to cull 10,000 wild horses by shooting the animals. The killing of the beasts, which the NT government defended as the humane response to an environmental crisis, made animal rights groups angry.
The horses are being shot from four helicopters that are patrolling the Tempe Downs Station, 300 kilometres southwest of Alice Springs. Residents were warned to stay away from the property for health and safety reasons. Tempe Downs is a 1,000-square kilometer former cattle station currently owned by the Urrampinyi Iltitajarri Aboriginal Land Trust.
The CLC said thousands of animals in the area are dying because of lack of food and water, including donkeys and camels, but the council is culling only horses which are damaging the water holes and affecting the other native animals.
A similar incident happened five years ago when about 600 brumbies were culled in New South Wales because of the damage they caused on the environmentally sensitive area. These brumbies were bred for the World War I Cavalry Remound trade.
CLC Director David Ross explained that because of little infrastructure and limited road access of the place, it is not practical to herd the horses into temporary yards and then transport them to the nearest abattoir in South Australia, 1,500 kilometres away.
"Nobody wants to see suffering, especially the traditional owners of the land who love the horses but are well aware of the terrible consequences of out-of-control populations," Ninemsn quoted Mr Ross.
While the Waler Horse Society of Australia agrees on the need for population management, it is against culling the animals, which it calls a bloodbath, because it causes suffering on horses with non-fatal wounds. The society also pointed out that the dead horses would lead to an increase in dingo, fox and cat populations that would, in turn, would be risky for other commercial livestock.
To stop the culling expected to last until June, over 7,600 people signed the society's petition.