Australian environmentalists say hundreds of koalas
have been killed at a bluegum logging plantation in the state of
Victoria, sparking an investigation by officials.
"Hundreds of koalas were found dead and injured by locals in the area who tipped us off yesterday," Anthony Amis, a koala researcher for environmental group Friends of the Earth Australia, said on Sunday.
"They found koalas bulldozed. Our local sources told us they could smell rotting koalas. It's a massacre," Amis told dpa, adding the incident occurred during logging activities at a timber property near Portland in south-west Victoria over the past few months.
Local Portland resident Helen Oakley, who was one of the first ones to raise the alarm, posted a video to Facebook on Friday, saying she had seen the marsupials lying dead at the site. "Mothers killed and their little babies. Australia should be ashamed of this," she said.
"Bluegum trees were logged by a company called Midway until November and then handed over to a local landowner. During the clearing of logging debris, they must have bulldozed the koalas," Amis said.
About two dozen animals had to be euthanized, said Victoria's department of environment, which is conducting an investigation. "If this is found to be due to deliberate human action, we expect the Conservator Regular to act swiftly against those responsible," the department said on Sunday.
In a statement, Midway said they rejected the "disturbing allegations" about harming koalas and said they had left "an appropriate number of 'habitat trees' for the existing koala population." The koalas were uninjured and in good health, but since the company left, the remaining trees seem to have been cleared, the firm said.
The deaths at the plantation come after tens of thousands of koalas were killed in the bush fires that have burned more than 12 million hectares of land in Australia, including dozens of koala habitats. The fires have put the iconic animals at risk of being listed as "endangered."
Unlike in New South Wales and Queensland, koalas are not a threatened species in Victoria. In fact, in some areas, there are too many koalas, giving rise to issues like not enough food. Amis said the whole region - about 170,000 hectares of bluegum plantation established in the 1990s - was one of the most important koala habitats due to its specific healthy gene pool and also has one of the highest concentration of koalas in the state.
In Victoria, killing, harassing or disturbing wildlife can lead to a penalty of up to 8,000 dollars (5,350 US dollars) and an additional fine of more than 800 dollars per head of wildlife.
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