Brumby count backflip after eerie skull photos emerge
Environment Minister Matt Kean has been dragged into conducting a recount of wild horses in the Kosciuszko National Park before going ahead with a planned cull.
It comes after Deputy Premier John Barilaro last week accused his cabinet colleague of being "ignorant" for refusing a new brumby headcount, in an interview with The Daily Telegraph.
Despite knocking back Mr Barilaro's calls for a new population count in July, Mr Kean has now agreed to bring a planned headcount forward.
"We'll do a recount as requested," Mr Kean told 2GB.
"They do a big count every four years (but) I think to give the community confidence that what we're doing is the right thing we'll bring that forward," he said.
"We'll do the recount, we'll manage these sensitive areas - and we're not talking about culling, we're talking about trapping and moving them.
"But we'll do a full recount in the interim," he said.
Brumby advocates including Mr Barilaro have said the brumby population was reduced following summer's bushfires and previous numbers relied on for the planned cull over-estimate how many of the horses are left in the park.
The backflip comes after photos emerged depicting what appears to be brumby skulls erected outside a National Parks and Wildlife works depot.
Confronted about the images on Monday, Mr Kean said it was "completely unacceptable".
"There is no place for animal cruelty, or gloating about it, for any living being in the National Parks and Wildlife Service.
"If any of the staff want to be involved in that, then they can get out," Mr Kean said.
BARILARO: KEAN PURSUING 'LIMELIGHT OF WAR'
Mr Barilaro sensationally claimed his Liberal ministerial colleague in the Berejiklian government was abandoning "peace" to pursue the "limelight of the war" by not agreeing to a headcount.
The Land and Environment Court last month cleared the way for brumbies to be removed from the Snowy Mountains due to their environmental impact on the bushfire hit region.
Population numbers from 2019 cited by the Environment department estimate there are 19,000 wild horses in the National Park.
Mr Barilaro requested an updated headcount of the brumby population on June 4, "pleading" with Mr Kean to order it "following the unprecedented bushfire season".
He said photos of horse carcasses in the park prove brumbies perished during the fires. "What the pro-brumby people want to know is how many of those horses perished and how can you say we're going to remove 3000 or 4000 horses if you don't know what you're starting with?" he said.
In a reply to Mr Barilaro's letter, Mr Kean said the "highly targeted" removal of brumbies in the park "is not designed to remove all of (the) horses, (but) reduce (them) towards sustainable levels".
The aim of the program is to rehome as many brumbies as possible. But those that can't find new homes will be sent for slaughter.
Since the horse reduction program was cleared to proceed last month, about 100 horses have been removed, and the majority of those been rehomed.
Mr Barilaro said Mr Kean and his department were being "ignorant and deliberate in not wanting to actually get to the truth" of how many brumbies remain on the mountain.
"It makes commonsense and actually brings peace to the debate, but if he doesn't want to do that, it means he doesn't want peace, and Matt (Kean) likes the limelight of the war," Mr Barilaro said.
Mr Kean said the horse removal program is "humane and responsible" scheme that "protects our threatened species and ecosystems in Kosciuszko National Park".
"The post fire horse control program has been intentionally designed to focus on only the most sensitive ecological areas of the park," Mr Kean said.
Originally published as Brumby count backflip after eerie skull photos emerge