Help save the Kaimanawa Wild Horses of New Zealand

The NZ authorities and the NZ Army wish to slaughter and exterminate for all time the beautiful Kaimanawa horses of New Zealand. I have seen film footage of these horses and they are a wonderful sight to behold. Because of the lack of knowledge on the issue, the following information is supplied to inform those interested on the plight of these beautiful animals. Please write to:

Mr Jim Bolger, the Prime Minister of New Zealand, Parliament, Wellington New Zealand. and protest against the impending slaughter of these beatiful horses. and/or fax Major newspapers covering this issue in NZ are the Dominion in Wellington (Fax 64 4 474 0350 and the NZ Herald (Fax 64 9 366 1568 in Auckland. Television One (Fax 64 4 495 0043 and Television Three (Fax 64 9 308 9652) are also avenues for outrage.

This cull/kill was stopped about a year ago due to public outrage. It is obvious that vested interests are trying to foil any humane attempt at wild horse control. Also, the fundamentalist view of anything introduced as being unwanted is rearing its ugly head as it has done in NZ. Please remember this fundamentalism is "selective". It doesn't include the most damaging of all "introduced species" the European settler, or their sheep, rabbits, ferrets, deer and many other "introduced species" in New Zealand that the fundamentalist illogic hasn't deemed to target (yet).

For further information email

Ellen Lee at

or Paul Tucker (Friends of the Earth NZ) at

The Kaimanawa Wild Horses of New Zealand: Where did they come from?

These horses are a mixture of Exmoor and Welsh pony bloodlines imported in the mid 19th Century to provide sensible sure-footed and sturdy station mounts. They became highly valued as carriage horses and were exported to Australia and South Africa under the breed name ‘Comet.’ During the 1940s thoroughbred bloodlines were introduced and there have of course been escapees from local cattle stations which have joined the herd. They have been recognized by the Food and Agriculture Association of the United Nations as “a breed of special significance and rarity.” They were protected under New Zealand law in 1981 and have become known as the Kaimanawa Wild Horses after the area they range, the Kaimanawa foothills and the Volcanic Plateau of the central North Island of New Zealand. The word Kaimanawa means ‘eat the wind’ and Maori mean by this that the brave must survive on their own resources even when food is scarce and the future is in doubt, the brave will “eat the wind” and somehow, endure. It is a fitting name indeed for our beautiful wild horses.

What is their significance to Maori?

The Maori hapu (extended family groupings) of the wild horse range is Ngati Tama Whiti of the tribe Tuwharetoa. To this hapu the horses are a kaitiaki (a spiritual guardian) over their lands and their people. Each hapu has four kaitiaki which protect the four corners of their boundaries. The wild horse protects the northern boundary, although clearly it must have replaced an earlier animal. It is easy to imagine why! The arrival of the horse in NZ transformed Maori society as it did every human society on earth where previously people had to use their own two feet to travel, to work the ground for crops, to trade and to make war. The hapu, and the larger tribe, have filed claims over the horses and the land they range over before the Waitangi Tribunal. The land was taken from them as recently as the Second World War and is still used by the NZ Army and visiting Armies as a major training ground. The Tribunal has accepted that Maori have a good case but they are unable to hear it until their current backlog is cleared in about two years time. By then the wild horses will be gone.

Why do the authorities want to kill the wild horses and how?

The drive to kill the horses comes directly from the NZ Army which occupies the land the horses graze. The Army opposed protection in 1981 and have lobbied successive Ministers of Conservation (who are responsible for all wild animals) to remove them entirely. The compromise they have settled for now is the removal of all but 200 on Army land which will be passed to them to ‘manage.’ Few expect this tiny herd to survive more than three years maximum. The Army’s determination to rid themselves of what is at most a temporary nuisance during exercises, means that 1,200 Kaimanawa wild horses will be culled. DoC has been a willing partner in this scheme. The Army have created ‘no go’ areas on their land, which is the only protection DoC can ensure for some vulnerable plants in those regions. In return DoC have taken the heat for decimating the herd which occasionally gets in the Army’s way during war-games. Removing the horses fits well with DoC’s philosophical stance that NZ should not allow non-native animals to exist in the wild, despite the fact that many have now adapted to their environment and their environment has adapted to them.(NZ’s world famous trout fisheries are also under threat because of this fundamentalist attitude). The wild horse lobby has begged DoC to look at alternatives for protecting the areas vulnerable to horse impacts but we have been ignored. Fundamentalist do not look at alternatives! Plans to remove the horses have ranged from chasing them into canyons and gunning them down there to poisoning. Over the last three years mass musters have removed 600 horses. We have opposed these because the are conducted when the mares are pregnant, the distances are extreme, helicopters are used extensively, even basic horsemanship principles have been ignored, such as providing clean water and adequate food and most of the horses captured have been trucked miles to slaughter. Incidentally, their final destination has been the dinner plates of Europe. Even those horses sold to the public have largely been mistreated with at least 8 cases coming before the courts. DoC has trialed heli-net capture (at Christmas) despite the RNZSPCA’s insistence that this method would be illegal. Unfortunately, DoC and any contractor employed by them, are immune from prosecution. They have also trialed shooting wild horses from helicopters and from the ground and claim that in both cases they can get clean head shots into all horses within a family band before the horses become distressed. The NZ Deer Stalkers Association publicly refuted these claims. The horses range is a military zone and DoC and the Army have a very tight security over all aspects of the upcoming muster. We have had witnesses report four yards have been built and that an extremely large pit has been dug in the remote North. Given the difficult terrain and the winter fast approaching we think that the plan will be as follows: 400 wild horses will be shot from helicopters in the most remote areas. Their gutted, beheaded, de-maned and de-tailed bodies will then be flown to the pits fro burial. (This was the plan in the canceled cull last year. DoC was afraid that someone would film dead horses swinging under the helicopters so they decided to make them look as inoffensive as possible) 800 wild horses will be mustered into the different sets of yards in a series of musters which will go right through to the end of July, two months past the internationally accepted deadline for mustering pregnant mares. If the big horse transporters can reach the yards, and two sets are inaccessible by road, the horses will then go directly to the meat works. Some foals and yearlings may be offered to the public. DoC will be desperate for some good news type stories. Where the trucks can’t reach, the horses will probably be shot in the yards and the bodies disposed of into pits or salvaged for meat (The Government changed the law in 1993 and defined wild horses as game to allow this)

What are the alternatives to culling?

The wild horse lobby sponsored Dr Jay Kirkpatrick out to NZ to assess the situation and to advise DoC. He was confident that the horses’ modest population growth (11%) could easily be controlled by immuno-contraception. But he was astonished and disappointed at the closed minded attitude that he experienced in his discussions with DoC. DoC finally funded Massey University to trial the vaccine, which was unnecessary as it had already passed its field trials in the States and was in use, and the results, much to DoC’s delight, have been appalling. Of the 20 mares vaccinated, 19 became pregnant. The humane alternative seemed totally discredited and an ex Minister of Conservation’s claim that “our horses were just too wild.” gained acceptance. However it turned out that the Massey team had opted to deliver the vaccine by biobullet, which has such a limited range that it should only be used on yarded animals, and not to use the Pneudart which is the accepted method of vaccinating mares running loose. Small wonder the ‘trial’ failed. Another alternative we have pushed long and hard is sensible discrete fencing. We have had an internationally renowned wildlife fencing firm, Gallaghers, cost solar powered electric fencing of the vulnerable plants habitat (NZ$54,000) As DoC have often claimed that the wild horses are a menace to motorists on State Highway 1 we also asked Gallaghers to quote for appropriate fencing there and the cost was much the same. Massey University has told us that NZ$5,000 per year would supply enough vaccine to hold the birth rate and we have suggested to DoC that the Army could modify its sniper training and deliver the vaccine free of charge. We have asked that the wild horses be turned over to the Wild Horse Trust to manage. The Trust is a group with representatives from all the wild horse lobby, the SPCA and hapu. Through the appointment of specially trained guardians the Trust would ensure that only the most humane methods of population control were used (immuno-contraception) and that the habitat was protected to ensure its sustainability and that of the herd. DoC reject all these alternatives. They ignore the results of their own submission processes which reject slaughter as an option. They ignore the due process of the law with regard to the Waitangi Tribunal. They see themselves as ‘strong’ persevering with an extremely unpopular decision and any compromise as ‘wimpish.’

Can this cull be stopped?

Yes. The same way the cull planned for last winter was stopped. The public simply complained so long and so loud that the politicians eventually lost their nerve. The National Government received more letters opposing the cull than they had ever received on any other subject since coming to power.!! So write to Mr Jim Bolger, the Prime Minister of New Zealand, Parliament, Wellington New Zealand. Then make sure your friends and family do too and their friends and their families and so on... Hold letter writing suppers, barbecues, picnics...Make those letters short, polite and firm. And remember, aside from the prospects of being re-elected, the subject closest to a politician’s heart is ‘the economy’ Be sure and tell Jim that NZ’s reputation can only be hurt if the horses are slaughtered. Animal welfare is an important trading issue and NZ is careful to be seen as a country which has a humane record, especially when sending farm products to Europe. Perhaps if you correspond with our Trade Missions in Europe you could point out that during past DoC musters little foals have collapsed with exhaustion and older horses have had heart attacks whilst being chased by helicopters. There have been horrific injuries during transportation and gross neglect of wild horses held in pens in freezing weather, without shelter, food or clean water. Clean food is another major trading bonus for NZ which prides itself on it’s “Clean, Green” image So there has been a lot of official consternation when we were able to establish that the wild horses (many of which have been or will be eaten by people in Europe and Japan) have been exposed to a number of highly toxic chemicals over the last five years. The principal contaminate is a substance called 1080 (sodium fluroacetate) which is used to kill possums but which is dropped by helicopter in a form which is extremely attractive to horses. We fear that the high foal mortality rate in our herd may be due to poisoning (50grams of bait is lethal to a foal) and that the rare protease inhibitor and low fertility found in the adult horses may be an indication that they have had chronic exposure to this, or other, toxins. The authorities in NZ maintain that there is no such thing as a sub-lethal dose of 1080. Yet there are strict guidelines for removing and with holding stock from areas to be poisoned by 1080, a precaution which has not been possible with wild horses. They claim that a person would have to eat an enormous quantity of 1080 contaminated horse meat to actually die. However they admit that they have no way of knowing what effects, either long term or short term, small or even minuscule traces of 1080 would have on human health. From time to time whole communities in NZ believe that they have been accidentally poisoned by 1080, usually due to accidental dropping of the poisoning in water supplies. Symptoms range from an unexplained rise in miscarriages, infertility and chronic fatigue syndrome. There has also been some extremely worrying incidences of heart and nerve damage especially amongst children. Perhaps you know of organizations in your area which would be interested in this story about New Zealand horse meat and the likelihood that it has been contaminated. Major newspapers covering this issue in NZ are the Dominion in Wellington (Fax 64 4 474 0350 and the NZ Herald (Fax 64 9 366 1568 in Auckland. Television One (Fax 64 4 495 0043 and Television Three (Fax 64 9 308 9652) are also avenues for outrage. The Kaimanawa Wild Horses must not be lost for all time. Please help save our taonga (treasure).