Trying to keep Barmah’s starving Brumbies alive

By Sophie Baldwin

Gerry Moor knows his way around the Barmah National Park as intimately as the wrinkles on the back of his weathered old hands: hands that for the past 18 months have been feeding out thousands of bales of hay to trying and keep Barmah’s starving Brumbies alive as they battled environmental flooding and drought.

In November 2018 the condition of the Brumbies was so dire, Gerry and his wife Kaye – with a group of concerned and dedicated community members – began hand-feeding starving animals on private property surrounding the park.

Kaye sat alongside the suffering animals, sometimes for hours, as she waited for them to be put down – an experience so traumatic she has needed counselling.

“I saw some terrible sights, things no-one should see and certainly no animal should ever have to suffer.”

On a positive note six foals were rescued and rehomed; and five survived.

The Facebook group Barmah Brumby Hay Angels was formed and hay was donated by people across the country.

Gerry and Kaye spent every day for months on end, driving around the park, checking on animals and feeding out hay.

Standing on private property Gerry points out a brumby with a diamond on her forehead, ‘'she was really backward in condition and I haven’t seen her for a long time, it’s good to see her looking so good now''.

Last year Scruffy the foal was on death’s door.

She has now returned with her mum, dad and now a sister named Hope.

“The stallion is such a good dad, he chases away anyone who comes near his little family,” Kaye said.

She also added it was unusual to see a family group stay together like this particular one.

“We have to remember these are wild animals. We don’t interfere with them and we let them go about their business, just every now and then they need a helping hand,” Kaye said.

Gerry has spent his life in the Barmah Forest.

And around horses.

Like Kaye, he struggles to convey why he loves the horses and in particular the Brumbies so much, but he just does.

His earliest memories are of jumping on a horse and riding through what was once a wide-open forest plain.

There was Moira grass towering over Gerry’s head and there were Brumbies in the park back then.

“I don’t know why they keep blaming Brumbies for the destruction to the Moira grasslands...there are so many trees in the forest there is no open plain for the grassland and the park is choking with weeds; including bull rush and Patterson’s Curse,” Gerry said.

Kaye and Gerry estimate there are 250-300 Brumbies across the 28 500 ha of the park.

“The population certainly needs to be managed and we fully support that,” Kaye said.

Parks Victoria is planning on shooting the Brumbies as part of the Barmah Strategic Action Plan.

The ultimate goal is a staged, total removal, removing up to 120 horses in the first year through ground shooting or passive trapping and rehoming appropriate animals.

Parks Victoria was scheduled to start shooting Brumbies in the Eastern Alps on May 26, but a court injunction granted to Omeo cattleman Phil Maguire has blocked the plan until June 1.

Barmah Brumbies have also been given a reprieve with shooting and rehoming temporarily postponed due to COVID-19.

Regional director of parks Daniel McLaughlin told the Riverine Herald in April applicants who lodged a formal expression of interest to rehome horses have been advised the process has been postponed.

Meanwhile Member for Murray Plains Peter Walsh is encouraging local people to add their voice to a petition calling for a halt to the Brumby cull.

“Brumbies are an iconic part of our state’s cultural identity, and whilst maintaining biodiversity in Victoria’s parks is necessary, any management of Brumby populations must be conducted ethically and sustainably,” Mr Walsh said.