Dozens of koalas have been starved, crushed to death or wounded after the logging of a private plantation.
Investigators believe the “koala massacre” — which occurred near Cape Bridgewater in Victoria’s southwest — has left at least 40 of the beloved native Australian marsupials dead and even more trapped among 10 kilometres of bulldozed trees. The number of deceased animals is expected to rise in the coming days as injured koalas succumb to their injuries.
The incident was first brought to the attention of the media, politicians and relevant government departments by locals, who took to social media to condemn the perpetrators.
"Look at the destruction that they have done. There are koalas lying there dead,” resident Helen Oakley said in a heartbreaking viral Facebook video. “There are mothers killed with their little babies. Australia should be ashamed of this.”
With the support of local authorities and wildlife carers, Vets are seeking to save as many of these precious animals as possible. We appreciate the of concern from so many caring people, but please know there is no need for further volunteers.— Animals Australia (@AnimalsAus) February 1, 2020
We will update when we can. 💔🐨 pic.twitter.com/ckBCmyOiWq
According to The Age, the private property is owned by sheep farmer Keith Troeth.
Troeth told the newspaper his land was harvested last year by South West Fibre, a company that processes and exports the wood chips of blue gums — a type of eucalyptus tree. South West Fibre confirmed it logged the plantation and provided proof that it complied with all government regulations to protect koalas.
The land was then handed back to Troeth, who was responsible for clearing it and returning it to pasture.
Troeth said that despite "every effort to avoid fatalities,” a handful of koalas may have been killed during the land clearing. He has insisted, however, that the number of dead koalas reported by locals and international media is massively exaggerated.
"There may have been one or two koalas killed, and I’ll wear the responsibility, but it's not the big hoo-ha it's been made out to be," Troeth told The Age. “We made every effort to do it professionally; we made every effort to minimise any fatality.”
In response to the incident, the Australian Forest Products Association said it would launch a full investigation, while Victoria’s Environment Minister Lily D’Ambrosio said the state government would work to bring the truth to light and ensure the full force of the law was brought onto the perpetrators.
"Every Victorian can rightly feel not only appalled, deeply saddened and heartbroken, but angry. I am absolutely angry,” D’Ambrosio told the Guardian Australia. “We will do everything possible to bring the people responsible for this to account and will throw every penalty available to us at them.”
The incident comes at a time when Australia’s koala population is particularly vulnerable.
Tens of thousands of koalas have been killed by raging bushfires throughout New South Wales, Queensland and Victoria over the past two months. The bushfires, which have been compounded by human-driven climate change, have claimed the lives of over 1 billion animals, which scientists state has massively contributed to biodiversity loss and pushed countless species toward extinction.
As a result of the bushfires, the koala population — which is already extremely vulnerable and endangered is some parts of Australia — is now at risk of extinction through Australia’s southeast.