In between the felled trees and barren soil, dozens and dozens of koalas have been found dead or starving at a plantation in Australia.
Local sources have told Friends of the Earth (FOE) that “hundreds of koalas” have been killed or injured at a blue gum tree plantation near Cape Bridgewater in the Australian state of Victoria.
Blue gum trees (Eucalyptus globulus) are much more than a home to koalas, they are also a vital source of nutrition. So, when huge swathes of blue gums were slashed at the plantation during logging season late last year, dozens lost shelter and were faced with starvation.
"A couple of days ago people apparently witnessed the bulldozing of many dead koalas into slash piles," FOE said in a statement over the weekend.
Police have declared the Cape Bridgewater plantation a “crime scene.” Under the Australian Wildlife Act 1975, those found responsible for killing, harassing, or disturbing wildlife can land themselves with an $8,000 AUD ($5,360 USD) fine, with an additional $800 AUD ($536 USD) per head of wildlife.
State authorities are also on the scene to help locals and conservation groups relocate the koalas, along with providing the suffering animals with food, water, and veterinary care. So far, authorities have reportedly removed around 80 koalas from the area.
“Unfortunately, a number of koalas have had to be euthanized on-site due to injuries or starvation,” Victoria’s Department of Environment, Land, Water, and Planning said in a statement.
“The Conservation Regulator is taking this matter very seriously and is investigating the events that led to this incident. There are penalties for killing, harassing or disturbing wildlife and for animal cruelty under Victorian law,” it added.
Lily D'Ambrosia, Australia Minister for Energy Environment & Climate Change, expressed her anger on Sunday, tweeting: “I am appalled by reports of dead, injured and starving koalas on private property near Cape Bridgewater.”
Keith Troeth, whose family reportedly owns the Cape Bridgewater plantation, told The Age that a small number of animals may have died during logging in November 2019, however, they made "every effort to avoid fatalities".
The situation of koalas on the plantation is not straightforward. According to FOE, the population is descended from koalas originally from nearby Gippsland. When numerous blue gum plantations started to appear in the 1990s, hundreds of koalas settled here, bred, and thrived. Koalas frequently undergo booms and busts in their population cycles, however, they undergo a significant loss once the plantation growing period comes to an end, every 14 years or so.
Worse still, the incident near Cape Bridgewater is on the back of the huge losses seen from this season’s bushfires. Experts believe that around 1.25 billion animals may have been killed directly or indirectly by the ongoing fires. While it’s not possible to know precise numbers, koalas were among the hardest-hit species, primarily because they’re slow-moving and live among the forested areas being decimated by the fires.