Revelations of koalas suffering graphic injuries and death in Victorian timber plantations are evidence of a long-standing failure to properly protect the iconic Australian marsupials, according to a leading conservation organization.
Footage on Monday night’s 7.30 report showed koalas, including babies, lying dead on the floor of a cleared forest. One koala was missing an arm while another injured animal relocated to a new area of bush was shown to be in visible distress.
The report featured claims that large numbers of koalas are being wiped out in Victoria, in large part due to logging practices in the south-west of the state.
An anonymous timber worker said that finding dead koalas was “like a daily thing. Sometimes a couple every hour. Sometimes just one a day. You’d normally come across them on the ground already dead or pretty badly injured.”
Koalas have moved into the blue gum timber plantation fields due to the dwindling of the animals’ native forest habitat.
The marsupials are then killed or seriously crippled when trees are felled by timber contractors, with wildlife volunteers confronted by broken backs, severed limbs and dead mothers with joeys.
Koala in Tasmania. Photo by: J.J. Harrison/Creative Commons 3.0.
Deborah Tabart, the chief executive of the Australian Koala Foundation, told Guardian Australia that public revulsion over the deaths should be aimed at federal and state governments that have failed to safeguard koalas.
“I knew things were bad, but didn’t know they were quite that grim,” she said. “I’ve seen a lot of terrible things happen to koalas, but this is the best ammunition I’ve ever had to get koalas properly protected.
“No one is taking full responsibility for the koala. It’s a native icon but everyone is saying it’s someone else’s job. The government has allowed industry to completely self-regulate. We need a new koala protection act that says you simply can’t touch a tree where a koala lives.”
Tabart said the Victorian government had failed to check that loggers were reducing risks to koalas, while the federal government had erred by not listing the animal as endangered in Victoria.
Last year, then federal environment minister Tony Burke listed the koala as endangered, but only in NSW, Queensland and the ACT.
“I’m angry with Tony Burke for not listing it properly and I have no respect for the Victorian government, which has just asked industry what it’s doing and they’ve said ‘no worries, mate’. It seems that the Victorian government truly believes koalas are pests that require no management at all. There has been massive cruelty to koalas in Victoria over the years,” Tabart added.
Greens senator Lee Rhiannon said that the scale of koala deaths and injuries was “very disturbing”. “The logging industry urgently needs harvesting protocols to ensure trees are cut with minimum impact on koalas, and koala habitat is protected so healthy populations are easily able to move across the landscape,” she said.
“I call on government ministers to stop regarding koalas as pests and show leadership to provide the protection Australians expect koalas to be given.”
Andrew Pritchard, program manager of terrestrial biodiversity at Victoria’s Department of Environment and Primary Industries, said: “There are significant numbers of koalas in most suitable habitats across the south-west. The high population numbers have resulted in many moving into the blue gum estate in the region. This is a significant issue for the timber plantation industry that they haven’t had to address before.
“The increase in koala numbers reported in individual plantations has prompted Depi, wildlife carers and industry to come together to formulate new management procedures. Depi is working with the blue gum plantation industry in the south-west to make sure it responds humanely and effectively to the recent influx of koalas onto its plantation estate.”
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