Drought conditions and flooding caused by water spilling out of the Barmah Choke have left brumbies in Barmah National Park starving, forcing local volunteers to handfeed them in an attempt to keep them alive.
Barmah resident Kaye Moor said at least 26 brumbies and foals had died since the start of November, while six foals were rescued and sent to Hoof 2010, a charity working to save and promote Australian bush horses.
Murray Willaton from the Barmah Brumby Preservation Group said the brumbies were suffering.
‘‘We have been worried for months and last month the horses started to collapse and volunteers have been feeding them ever since,’’ Mr Willaton said.
‘‘We have called Parks (Victoria) at least 20 times for assistance and they failed to attend on 12 occasions.’’
Volunteers said they have had trouble contacting Parks Victoria on its 24-hour number numerous times after finding brumbies in need of assistance.
Vet Judith Mulholland has been responding to calls to help the brumbies in the forest for more than 10 years and said recent events concerned her greatly.
‘‘If that animal is able to move away, even slowly, administering injections (to euthanase the animal) would be impossible; the only option left to the gravely injured animal is to suffer until Parks attend or break the law and shoot it myself,’’ she said.
Carrying a firearm in a national park is illegal and only Parks Victoria officers are allowed to put a brumby down with a gun.
Dr Mulholland said a Parks Victoria officer should be on call 24/7 or authority must be passed on to the attending vet.
Parks Victoria chief conservation scientist Mark Norman said he understood people’s concerns, however, regulations prevent the feeding of, or interference with, animals in national parks.
‘‘Parks Victoria is responding to incidences of malnourished feral horses and receiving advice and assistance from RSPCA Victoria regarding the welfare of the animals,’’ Mr Norman said.
He said Parks Victoria was increasing patrols and after hours staffing, as well as working with a panel of local vets to assist in response to reports of malnourished horses, including euthanasing them ‘‘in a controlled manner and under strict protocols’’ following consultation with a vet.