Hundreds of koalas have allegedly been killed during a logging operation in a regional Australian forest according to wildlife volunteers. Upwards of 500 koalas are thought to have died. This is on top of hundreds of thousands who lost their lives in the devastating bushfires that have obliterated their homes in recent weeks.
Blue gum trees – an important koala habitat – were harvested from the plantation in December, leaving only a few isolated stands of trees. Some koalas had starved to death in the remaining trees. Others were apparently killed by bulldozers brought in to clear the remaining trees following the fires in recent weeks. About 80 surviving koalas have been removed and are being cared for.
The deaths come after tens of thousands of koalas were killed in the bushfires that have ravaged Australia. The marsupial is listed as vulnerable in Australia.
After the plantation was logged in December, reports of hundreds of starving koalas came in, environmental group Friends of the Earth Australia said.
“People apparently witnessed the bulldozing of many dead koalas into slash piles.” it said.
The Department of Environment, Land, Water and Planning said it was prepared to prosecute over the incident.
“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 Australian Forest Products Association said the remaining trees were cleared after the contractors had left. It has vowed to investigate the incident.
It is unclear as yet who bulldozed the trees with the koalas. Killing, harassing or disturbing wildlife can attract a penalty of up to $8000 and an additional fine of more than $800 per head of wildlife.
According to the Australian Koala Foundation (AKF) there are less than 100,000 koalas left in the wild and the population could be in fact as low as 43,000. If Australia’s koala population falls below 50,000 it would be “functionally extinct”,