Billy the koala set to lose his home to new Bunnings store: 'He owns the place'

Bunnings will displace at least two koalas if it proceeds with plans to build a new Victorian store, locals fear.

While the retailer said it appreciates “koala protection” is “important” for people living in the southwestern coastal town of Portland, it plans to remove 37 trees on a site neighbours say is home to at least two males.

An arborist engaged by the retailer found the majority of trees to be in poor condition, and they did not report any sightings of koalas on the 1.6-hectare development site. However residents have amassed videos and images they say show a male animal, affectionately named Billy, just metres away.

Billy the koala on a fence (left). A stock image of a Bunnings (right).
Portland locals say Billy the koala (left) could be displayed if a Bunnings Warehouse development goes ahead. Source: Supplied/Getty

Local fisherman Manny Abela objects to the proposal. He has been aware of koalas in the area for at least two years and claims to see Billy regularly cross the paddock that Bunnings plans to develop. He then climbs along his fence which is around 50 metres away. “I can see him right now up my neighbour’s tree at the moment,” he said on Wednesday.

While he hasn’t seen Billy in the trees Bunnings plans to lop, Mr Abela argues a Bunnings store would block his pathway, forcing him towards the road. He and his neighbour Chris Smid believe the development will also destroy habitat used by kangaroos and a wide array of birdlife.

Mr Smid, whose property backs onto the block Bunnings plans to build on, said Billy regularly visits his home. “He walked up to me around 10cm away and I just got out of his road because he wanted to climb up the fence,” he said. “He walks around like he owns the place and you hear him grunting all night,” he said.

Bunnings explains why it wants to build its new store

Bunnings’ development has been green-lit by Glenelg Council, and has submitted plans to re-plant the site with native species.

It said its proposed new hardware store, which would be located less than 1km from competitor Mitre 10 would create around 50 “team member” positions and “represent an investment of over $15 million”.

“We will continue to keep the community updated, but at this stage no timelines have been confirmed,” Kirk Myers, regional operations manager said in a statement.

“We have listened to the concerns raised by the community and appreciate koala protection is an important local issue.”

Three images of Billy the koala.
Locals say they have seen at least two koalas crossing the Bunnings' development site. Source: Supplied

Objections to Bunnings’ development have included impact on koalas, noise, increased traffic and property devaluation. Glenelg Council did not respond to requests for comment from Yahoo News Australia.

Koalas regularly displaced in Portland

On Thursday, environment minister Tanya Plibersek announced an intention to implement tougher laws to help stop Australia's extinction crisis.

But changes to Commonwealth law are unlikely to help Victoria's koalas which are considered abundant, and the species is only federally listed as endangered in NSW, ACT and Queensland.

The area Bunnings plans to develop.
Locals living nearby say they are concerned the development will be noisy. Source: Helen Oakley

In Portland, koalas are frequently displaced by eucalypt plantation harvesting, and a population near the town’s aluminium smelter suffer ongoing health issues. In 2022, the state government accidentally killed several koalas during a planned burn. In an unrelated incident, several were found dead at a plantation.

Last week, a koala was filmed seeking refuge on top of a power pole after council cut down several street trees, leaving the nature strip bare.

Australia has the world's worst mammalian extinction rate, and koalas are disappearing from large parts of the country due to habitat loss.

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