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Portland massacre: Government takes further steps to wipe out koala population

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A koala lays dead at the Portland massacre site (Screenshot via YouTube)

Timber harvesting in a Victorian koala habitat has resulted in a massacre, with a call for an investigation into the slaughter, writes Sue Arnold.

THE MASSACRE of koalas at Cape Bridgewater in Portland, southwest Victoria, has created a national and international outcry.   

Stomach-churning vision of injured, dying and dead koalas, some with joeys in huge piles of bulldozed blue gums is a manifestation of the hell realms. Yet this appalling disaster is by no means unusual.

Blue gum plantations in Victoria and in South Australia’s Kangaroo Island are home to thousands of koalas.  

Kangaroo Island plantations had 23,000 koalas resident before the disastrous bushfires.

The Victorian Government is unable to provide any information on how many koalas are estimated in 170,000 hectares of blue gum plantations in the Green Triangle.

No data is available on the number of koalas that have been killed in harvesting operations in spite of freedom of information requests by Australians for Animals Inc.

In 2013, the 7.30 Report highlighted a shocking story on the fate of koalas living in harvested plantations. Alternative refuges were sought for koalas as the population continued to be driven out of its natural habitat.

One eyewitness reported:

Broken limbs, impact wounds, broken backs, severed arm. Dead mothers with joeys that are still alive, trying to survive. I had one 500 gram joey, about this big (demonstrates size with hands) that had two healed broken arms. And so we can only assume from that that the mother had been dropped previous to this incident and she had no obvious breaks, but her intestines were just pulp.

Carers have reported that koalas have been burned alive and that some living koalas have gone through the chippers but no one is willing to stand up and be counted. According to several carers who have spoken to IA, the corpses of koalas are quickly buried and no reports are filed confirming mortality.  There’s a great deal of fear as carers and anyone involved at the periphery of the harvesting know that the Government will ignore complaints.

In 2017, the Government produced new legislative requirements to provide authorisation to plantations to “disturb koalas” in accordance with Section 28A (1A) of the Wildlife Act and implemented a Koala Management Plan approved by the Department of Environment, Land, Water and Planning (DELWP).

The language of this authorisation can hardly be interpreted to cover the appalling slaughter of defenceless koalas.

The massacre at Cape Bridgewater demonstrated that no matter how loudly the Victorian Government claimed concerns with the South West Fibre Company who owned the plantation, declaring it had ensured 72 healthy koalas had survived, a land owner was able to destroy remaining blue gums as the land was cleared, brutally injuring and killing koalas.

Neither the Wildlife Act nor the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act provide sufficient protection for koalas. The reality is that the gross mismanagement of Victoria’s koala population by a government which has managed to escape a major investigation of its appalling koala management practices continues on.

Anthony Amis, Friends of the Earth spokesperson on blue gum plantations, is scathing in his criticism of the Government.

We had a similar thing happen in 2013 and 2015. Everything the Government has tried has been a dismal failure. Translocation, sterilisation, hormonal implant, spotters — nothing works.

 

In Victoria, we have two koala populations. A critically important genetically diverse population in the Strezlecki and a translocated population originating from French and Phillip Islands.  

 

All the problems are with the translocated animals. Their habitat is disappearing so the plantations are favoured by these koalas. I think they develop a taste for blue gum. When you log the trees, they are going to either starve or die.

 

The Victorian Government needs to be held to account.

 

Friends of the Earth says a Royal Commission into the Victorian Government’s mismanagement of koalas is long overdue.

As if the situation with blue gum plantations isn’t bad enough, Victoria’s wildlife is starving as a result of the bushfire infernos. More than 1.5 million hectares were burned but the Government continues to resist allowing rescue teams and vets to go into known wildlife areas.

The Australian Veterinary Association pleaded with the Government to airdrop food into inaccessible, bushfire-affected land to save starving wildlife.

On 21 January, the Government claimed to have hired private aircraft to drop “macropod pellets” for common species such as kangaroos and wallabies as well as the endangered brush-tailed rock wallaby. But Wildlife Victoria claimed it would be very difficult to deliver macropod pellets from the air. 

Local carers have had major problems attempting to feed wildlife as the Government continues to refuse access. Many carers have been contacted by IA but all say they can’t be identified as they’re fearful of repercussions by the Government

Recent reports by Yahoo News Australia indicate a New Zealand vet who flew to Australia to help treat wildlife was prevented from entering fire-affected areas.

According to the report, veterinarian Dr Rebecca Penman is just ‘one of a growing list of wildlife carers who have expressed frustration, alleging that the Victorian Government has blocked their access to burnt-out forests’.

Dr Penman said:

“They’re saying we don’t need any volunteers, we don’t need anyone helping. But there’s plenty of wildlife out there, the government is just pushing back.”

Victoria’s blue gum plantation massacres are an international scandal. An investigation into the ownership and profits balanced against the colossal environmental damage is long overdue.

As further evidence of chaotic mismanagement, a week ago, the Victorian Government stopped the commercial kangaroo harvest because of the ‘roo toll in fire-affected areas. One week later, the ban was overturned and the harvest allowed to resume.

By far, the most serious issue arising from the Victorian koala mismanagement is that the lack of population information ensures Victorian koalas are unlikely to be listed under the provisions of the EPBC Act.

Currently, only NSW, Queensland and A.C.T. populations are listed as “vulnerable” under the Act. Any upgrading of koalas in these states – where an upgrading to “endangered” is desperately needed as a result of the bushfires and ongoing drought – will not happen as the Federal Government continues to claim there are plenty of koalas in Victoria and South Australia, thus ensuring survival of the species is secure and therefore no requirement to upgrade in NSW and Queensland.

In other words, the Victorian Government’s ongoing failure to keep population estimates is an insurance policy for the Federal Government’s continuing rejection of any upgrading to “endangered” status. The fact that neither Victorian nor South Australian koalas could be translocated to NSW and Queensland is ignored.

These are the machinations of irresponsible governments determined to wipe out Australia’s iconic and unique species.

A Nuremberg type trial into the deliberate slaughter of this nation’s wildlife is becoming an urgent necessity.

Given the extraordinary response globally to the terrible fate of over one billion animals scientists estimate perished in the fires, the ongoing refusal of governments to provide adequate food drops and to take urgent action to protect species is criminal.

There are no bets on any State or Federal Government calling for a Royal Commission into the deliberate wipeout of Australia’s wildlife. But an increasingly angry electorate and growing international concern over what’s happening in this country will not go away.

Sue Arnold is an investigative journalist. She heads up Australians for Animals NSW Inc and the U.S. California Gray Whale Coalition. You can follow Sue on Twitter @koalacrisis and Koala Crisis on Facebook here.

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