A huge cull targeting up to 10,000 wild horses in Australia’s harsh Outback is reportedly underway, in what authorities say is a necessary step to control the population of feral animals.

The Central Land Council, which covers an area of 750,000 square kilometers in the southern half of the Northern Territory, said it was culling thousands of the animals in the area of Tempe Downs Station beginning Wednesday, the Australian Broadcasting Corporation reports.

David Ross, the council’s director, argued earlier this month that culls were necessary on humanitarian and environmental grounds. The animals will be shot from helicopters, reports AFP.

“We have an enormous problem with feral animals – horses, donkeys, and camels which are degrading the country and dying in their thousands due to lack of food and water,” he said. “The damage is catastrophic,” according to Ross.

The move met with criticism and protests, particularly from horse lovers. But Ross insisted it was out of necessity they decided to cull the animals before they suffer terrible and slow deaths.