It was shocking to hear of the secret cull of about 700 starving koalas in the Cape Otway region near the Great Great Ocean Road in western Victoria, but this does not come as a surprise.
Australian media, including The Age said “wildlife officials did three euthanasia sweeps to kill 686 koalas in 2013 and 2014 in a covert campaign that was designed to avoid any backlash from green groups and the community.” The newspaper claims the cull was conducted under the previous Liberal government to address overpopulation.
Many koalas in Victoria have become refugees, displaced from their habitats due to mismanagement of gum tree plantations.
Friends of the Earth (FoE) campaigner Anthony Amis said their habitats have been shrinking more rapidly against a “large number” of koalas.
He said once plantations are logged, koalas that survive clearfelling become homeless, feeding on whatever suitable vegetation is remaining. At several locations, there are koalas living in a couple of trees. This often results in over-consumption of vegetation. He said, “Unless the koalas move on, vegetation will probably be overbrowsed, with the animals eventually starving to death”.
There are regions in western Victoria where displacement resulted in starvation and deaths. The Crawford River Region is one example where some of the displaced koalas moved to roadside vegetation, including old growth trees. The region has between 7,000 and 8,000 hectares of bluegum plantations.
In some native forests where koalas already exist, the influx of displaced koalas poses a great challenge. Most of them may remain homeless with no food to eat.
Amis said, “It does not take a genius to realise that logging of thousands of hectares of such habitat will cause a profound ecological impact.”
He added FoE also has concerns about the absence of animal care facilities in some of the more isolated areas to cope with increases of koala injuries during logging operations. Many animals could suffer horrible deaths. He said:
“t is not good enough for the State Government and plantation companies to sit on their hands and do nothing about this problem. It is clear to us that we are only now witnessing the start of what will be a protracted and controversial problem.
Amis also noted that since the mid 1990s the State Government embarked on controversial fertility control options to control koala populations and reduce overbrowsing. He said, “Mt Eccles National Park and Framlingham forest have suffered overbrowsing in the past. We hope this situation does not increase into other areas in the South West”.
The population boom is presumed to be a result of displaced koalas coming from French Island. He explained the animals are more likely to be free from Chlamydia which means “the natural process of population control in koalas does not apply to South West Victorian Koalas”.
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