The Conservation Regulator with the Department of Environment, Land, Water and Planning (DELWP) in the Australian state of Victoria, said it was investigating a cleared blue gum plantation near the coastal town of Portland, where many Koalas were found dead or injured.
According to DELWP, some of the koalas had to be treated on site for injuries. Many of them were on the verge of starving to death after their habitat had been destroyed. Some koalas were found to have already died of starvation, while others had been killed by bulldozers. Approximately 80 koalas had been removed from the plantation site over the weekend for medical treatment, while others had to be put down due to extensive injuries.
“Wildlife welfare assessment and triage will continue with qualified carers and vets,” DELWP said in a statement. “Plans are being made to translocate remaining animals offsite if they are well enough to be moved.”
“If this is found to be due to deliberate human action, we expect the Conservation Regulator to act swiftly against those responsible,” DELWP said.
Victorian Environment Minister, Lily D’Ambrosio, called the incident “a crime” and vowed to bring to account “every single person who is responsible for this devastation”.
This incident comes after thousands of koalas, which are listed as “vulnerable” to extinction, were killed and their habitats destroyed by bushfires that have ravaged Australia’s southeast.
Who raised the alarm?
Helen Oakley, a Portland resident, was the first to raise the alarm for authorities on Wednesday, after hiking in the area and posting a video of the cleared site.
“They’ve bulldozed 140 acres down and just killed all our koalas” she said in the video posted on Facebook. “Mothers killed and their little babies. Australia should be ashamed of this.”
Animal protection group Animals Australia sent veterinary teams to the site in order to save as many koalas as possible.
“We are still gathering the details as to what has occurred in this case but it would appear that there are various breaches of legislation, including the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act, which we will be supporting authorities to pursue,” it said on Saturday in a series of tweets.
“By law, the companies that own these plantations must provide koala ‘spotters’ to identify koalas in trees before logging commences, so that animals can be safely removed and relocated . There is also a legal responsibility to ensure the welfare of koalas after logging has ceased,” it said.
The plantation was destroyed from logging by South West Fibre, a joint operation between Midway and Japanese company Mitsui. South West Fibre said that it had been hired to harvest timber from the site in October 2019 and followed protocols to protect the animals. South West Fibre handed the site back to the landowner in November 2019.
The company said in a statement, “SWF left an appropriate number of ‘habitat trees’ for the existing koala population and provided details of such in a letter to the landowner noting that the koalas were uninjured and in good health.”
“It is understood that subsequent to SWF completing its work, the remaining trees have since been cleared. This is particularly concerning to the foresters and staff who worked assiduously to protect the koalas during the harvesting operation.”
The Australian Forest Products Association (AFPA) said that it would be launching its own investigation.
“It is unclear as yet who bulldozed the trees with the koalas apparently still in them, but it is absolutely certain that this was not a plantation or a forestry company. We support all those calling for the full force of the law to be applied to the perpetrator.” AFPA Chief Executive Officer, Ross Hampton, said.
Hampton continued, saying, “AFPA will be launching its own investigation. Furthermore we will be ensuring that none of the timber which has been cleared is touched by any AFPA member.”