Rescue of a Brumby Foal and Its New Life at Bonrook
Just before Christmas last year, we welcomed Tiwi to Bonrook. The Brumby foal had been found alone and abandoned on Melville Island, located approximately 80 kilometres off the coast of Darwin, three months prior. The rescuer saved the only one-week-old animal, dedicating considerable effort to caring for and feeding it. Now, Tiwi is learning to be a horse in the Franz Weber Territory.
Hanna, a forestry worker responsible for the acacia plantations on Melville Island (one of the Tiwi Islands), discovered the one-week-old Brumby foal one morning in September 2021. As she and her colleagues were preparing for fieldwork, she spotted the little foal standing alone at the edge of the forest, with no other horses in sight. They approached it cautiously, and the little foundling showed no fear, following them. Since there are no domesticated horses on the island, it was clear that this must be a Brumby foal. Early settlers around 1790 had brought horses to the island. Today, there are neither horse breeders nor owners on Tiwi Islands. All horses are wild horses – Brumbies – and direct descendants of those initial horses.
After an unsuccessful search for the mother, Hanna knew that it needed help. To prevent the foal from the risk of starvation or potential dingo attacks, the forestry team decided to carefully transport the little one to their barracks by car.
In the first few weeks, Hanna’s ward was still very weak and often laid down. She kept him in the barracks, where she fed him every two hours with a makeshift milk bottle to ensure his survival. After a while, she taught him to drink from a bucket instead of a bottle, making feeding much easier. Hanna’s efforts paid off as the weak foal suddenly showed energy, started walking around curiously, and began eating greens, especially certain palms. A few months later, it was time for him to interact with other horses, learn to be a horse, and find a permanent home.
New Life on Bonrook In early December 2021, we received a request if we would be able to take on the foundling foal on Bonrook. After several phone conversations with Hanna and some organization, on December 17, 2021, it was time for the foal to embark on the journey to its new home. After a ten-hour journey on the barge from the Melville Island port, the little Brumby finally reached the Darwin port.
On December 18, 2021, Sam, Station Manager at Bonrook, picked him up and safely transported him to Bonrook following a two-and-a-half-hour drive.
When Tiwi (as we named him) first arrived at Bonrook, he was so small that we had to keep him under the shelter near the old stables to protect him from the heavy rain of the season and from dingoes. As our old riding horses seemed gigantic to him, and he hadn’t realized yet that he was actually a horse and not a human, Tiwi had a terrible fear of our horses. Every time he saw one, he would run away and hide in a corner of the paddock. So, we decided it would be safer to keep him in a separate part of the pasture for a while. From there, he could observe the other horses from a safe distance until he became accustomed. Step by step, we introduced him to the other horses, starting with the very kind and gentle Dizzy.
We continued to feed Tiwi with milk from the kettle to help him gain weight. Then, we enriched his diet with chaff, pellets, and fresh grass until we could eventually eliminate the milk altogether. Week by week, Tiwi became stronger and more confident. Finally, he was ready to live in the pasture together with the old riding horses. Sam began to familiarize him with grooming, putting on a halter, and walking on a lead rope.
In June 2022, as Tiwi grew larger and more spirited, the vet visited Bonrook to neuter Tiwi under general anaesthesia. He recovered very well and was galloping across the paddocks later that same evening!
Currently, Tiwi attends a yearling school just outside Katherine, about an hour and a half south of Bonrook. The training is based on a gentle method that relies on trust and relationship-building. During this eight-week program, Tiwi learns to load and unload from trailers, stand quietly tied, not to be pushy or cheeky, offer his hooves, trot nicely on a lead, work with another horse by his side, and get accustomed to new and potentially frightening things, including swimming in rivers. The goal is for Tiwi to learn safe interactions with both humans and animals. Sam is already looking forward to Tiwi’s return – anticipating the blossoming of a new, young life on Bonrook!
We will observe his behaviour within our yards, intending to eventually reintroduce him to the wild. The ultimate goal is to release him onto our vast 495 sqkm fenced bushland, allowing him to thrive alongside the other brumbies.