More than 500 horses found dead at alleged illegal knackery near Wagga Wagga

<span>NSW Nationals MP Wes Fang, who is based in Wagga Wagga, says the allegation is ‘incredibly concerning’. File photo of a brumby in Kosciuszko national park.</span><span>Photograph: Mike Bowers/The Guardian</span>
NSW Nationals MP Wes Fang, who is based in Wagga Wagga, says the allegation is ‘incredibly concerning’. File photo of a brumby in Kosciuszko national park.Photograph: Mike Bowers/The Guardian

More than 500 horses have been found dead near Wagga Wagga in what is alleged to be a possible illegal knackery operation.

The animals were discovered after Wagga Wagga city council and New South Wales police received reports alleging that horses had been butchered at a private property near the regional city and their remains left in a dry creek bed.

Officers from the council, supported by members of NSW police, entered the property with a view to investigating potential offences under the Protection of the Environment Operations Act, which relates to the disposal of animal carcasses.

“Once the inspection of the property commenced it became clear that the slaughtering of horses had been occurring for a long period of time,” the council said in a statement.

It said investigators found “numerous separate dumps of carcasses” throughout the property, with an estimated total number of more than 500.

Guardian Australia understands Wagga councillors were briefed on the incident on Monday night and told that a cool room containing horse meat had been located on the property.

“Some of these carcasses were no more than skeletal remains while others were killed relatively recently,” the council said in a statement.

“Once the extent of the operation had been identified NSW Police and other state government agencies began collecting evidence for possible offences and regulatory actions under a range of NSW state government legislation.”

The investigation is ongoing.

Guardian Australia spoke to the operator, who disputed the council’s allegations about the number of horses found. The operator said there were 15 to 20 carcasses on the property of horses they had killed to make pet food for their own animals, not for commercial purposes.

The operator confirmed they ran a brumby rehoming operation. A “handful” of the dead horses were brumbies that were not able to be rehomed, they said.

Racing NSW, which supported the investigation but did not attend the property, said it did not concern a member of the racing industry and none of the horses on the property had been identified as NSW thoroughbreds. NSW racing introduced a ban on sending horses to a knackery in 2017 and requires a veterinary certificate for a horse to be euthanised.

Wes Fang, a NSW Nationals MP based in Wagga Wagga, said the allegation that a “makeshift knackery” had been found on the outskirts of the regional city was “incredibly concerning”.

He called for a transparent investigation.

“We are hearing a number of horses may be re-homed brumbies,” he said. “If this is the case, the NPWS and RSPCA need to immediately be involved in the investigation.”