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The Brumby is a free-roaming feral horse in Australia. Although found in many areas around the country, the best-known Brumbies are found in the Australian Alps region in south-eastern Australia. Today, most of them are found in the Northern Territory, with the second largest population in Queensland. A group of Brumbies is known as a “mob” or “band”. Brumbies are the descendants of escaped or lost horses and their history dates back to the early European settlers in the 1800’s. Breeds include the “Capers” from South Africa, Timor Ponies from Indonesia, British draught horse and pony as well as Thoroughbreds and Arabians.

History Edit

The term Brumby refers to a feral horse in Australia. It can also  mean free-roaming horses. Australia’s first horses arrived in 1788, through importation from England to Australia. Very few horses actually survived the voyage by ship. The name Brumby for Australian feral horses is thought to have been derived from a Mr James Brumby who arrived in Australia in 1791. James Brumby, born in Scotton Lincolnshire, was a soldier with the New South Wales Corps, he was also a farrier and it is thought that he was responsible for some horses in the early Australian Colony.

Types:

Brumbies are rarely of consistent size, conformation or color. This is because they evolve and survive wild with the strongest traits showing over generations. Domestic mares may escape and mix with feral horse herds. Also, they were originally of mixed type, including draught and thoroughbred.

Origin of Feral Herds Edit

Horses were likely confined primarily to the Sydney region until the early 19th century, when settlers first crossed the Blue Mountains and opened expansion inland. Horses were required for travel, and for cattle and sheep droving as the pastoral industry grew. The first report of an escaped horse is in 1804, and by the 1840s some horses had escaped from settled regions of Australia. It is likely that some escaped because fences were not properly installed, when fences existed at all, but it is believed that most Australian horses became feral because they were released into the wild and left to fend for themselves. This may have been the result of pastoralists abandoning their settlements, and thus their horses. Life was very hard and due to the arid conditions and unfamiliar land this combined to make farming in Australia especially difficult for new Australians. After World War I, the demand for horses by defence forces declined.  Also the growth in mechanization, led to a growth in the number of unwanted animals and they were often simply set free.

Currently, Australia has at least 400,000 horses roaming the continent. It is also estimated that, during non-drought periods, the feral horse population increases at a rate of 20 percent per year. Drought conditions and brushfires are natural threats. Feral horses are considered to be a moderate pest by some sectors of the community and government. Where they are allowed to damage vegetation and cause erosion, the impact on the environment can be detrimental, and for that reason can be considered an environmental threat. However, this could be a view by pastoralists who believe the Brumby competes for grass of their domesticated cattle therefore reducing the readily available feed which then as a result has to be supplemented by the Cattle owner. Many believe the Brumbies have a cultural and potential economic value therefore the management of Brumbies (as with any feral animal) presents a complex issue.

Pangaré Brumbies Edit

On the coast south of Geraldton, Western Australia the Brumbies there are known as ‘Pangare Ponies’, as they appear to carry the rare Pangaré gene. This colouring is commonly known as mealy and is seen mainly in a number of old breeds such as British Ponies, Timor Ponies, Haflingers and even Belgian Draught Horses. The gene causes lightening in parts of a horse’s coat, resulting in a mealy coloured muzzle, forearms, flanks, and the belly. It is sometimes seen in chestnut horses with flaxen coloured manes and tails. The Pangaré Brumbies appear to have adapted very well to their coastal environment, where they feed on saltbush and they do not appear to be damaging. The Department of Environment and Conservation and the Outback Heritage Horse Association of Western Australia (OHHAWA) are monitoring these particular Brumbies to ensure the careful management of these unusual feral horses.

Environmental Impact Edit

Horses were first described as pests in Australia in the 1860s. Brumbies are viewed as a pest and a resource. They can cause damage to fences, overgraze cattle pastures, drink and foul water supplies, and make cattle mustering more difficult. They may also mate with domestic mares, and contradictory to most of the evidence some people believe they carry and pass on diseases. Their “usefulness” in Australia has been as meat, hair (for musical instruments, brushes, upholstery), and tourism/recreation. They can be captured and used as replacement stock horses, but demand is low. When the weather is dry, Brumbies may make water available by pawing at sandy creek beds, providing water for wildlife and cattle as well as themselves.

Their environmental impact may include soil loss, compaction, and erosion; trampling of vegetation; reduction in the vastness of plants; increased tree deaths by chewing on bark; damage to bog habitats and waterholes; spreading of invasive weeds; and various detrimental effects on population of native species. In some cases, when feral horses are startled, they may damage infrastructure, including troughs, pipes, and fences. However, Brumbies are also credited for help keeping tracks and trails clear for bush walkers and service vehicles in some areas.

In some habitats, hooves of free-roaming horses compact the soil, and when the soil is compacted, air spaces are minimized, leaving nowhere for water to collect. When this occurs, soil in areas where horses are prevalent has a water penetration resistance over 15 times higher than that in areas without horses. Trampling also causes soil erosion and damages vegetation, and because the soil cannot hold water, plant regrowth is hindered. Horse trampling also has the potential to damage waterways and bog habitats. Trampling near streams increases runoff, reducing the quality of the water and causing harm to the ecosystem of the waterway. Horse excrement tends to foul these waterways, as does the accumulation of carcasses that result when feral horses perish, adding to the negative environmental impact of this exotic species in Australia.

One could argue that domestic animals such as cattle and sheep have a very similar if not worse impact on the soil and land. Because of the limited commercial need for these horses, regular culling is necessary, and studies have been carried out as to the most humane and efficient method. This culling is perceived as necessary not only to reduce the horses’ impact on cattle farming & industry, but for the protection of the horse herd. A large number of horses in drought conditions would suffer starvation, thirst and may consume toxic plants but this is not proven.

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