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Experts block plan to carry koalas across busy freeway to safety

Authorities argue carrying the koalas across the road would be bad for animal welfare.

Four koalas face a grim future after Victorian authorities doubled down on their refusal to grant permission to ferry them over a known roadkill hotspot to safety.

With the koalas' plantation home being harvested for timber all week, animal advocates predict the marsupials will flee to the closest patch of bush which is unfortunately located on the other side of a busy freeway. “We are extremely worried about the future of these koalas because we've had four die in the last 12 months outside that plantation,” wildlife rescuer Jessica Robertson told Yahoo News Australia.

An aerial view of the plantation and the road.
Victorian government experts believe it would be bad for the koala's welfare to move them from the Gordon plantation on the left, to forest on the right. Source: Supplied

Wildlife advocates do not oppose the clearing of the plantation because its trees attract native animals towards the busy freeway. What they've advocated for over the past 30 months is for the koalas to be simply translocated to the other side of the road. But experts from the department of environment's Conservation Regulator have refused to allow this to occur on "animal welfare" grounds.

Campaigners now fear the koalas face a "death sentence" just like a kangaroo that died on the road overnight.

Government explains refusal to relocate koalas

The plantation is located on a patch of land owned by Central Highlands Water in Gordon, near the historical mining town of Ballarat. The timber harvester Midway declined to comment on the record about the situation, however it’s understood it would have preferred to have translocated the koalas before its operations began.

Left - a Danger sign outside the plantation. Right - one of the koalas in a tree at Gordon.
Four koalas are living in the 17-hectare plantation that's being logged by Midway. Source: Supplied/Peter Kervarec

During the harvesting, wildlife spotters will be on site to ensure risk of the koalas being immediately harmed is minimised, and eight trees will be left standing around each remaining animal. But after the timber is logged, the koalas are on their own.

The Conservation Regulator told ABC Ballarat on Tuesday it made the decision not to relate the koalas based on expert advice it could cause “significant stress” and “poor animal welfare outcomes”. Spokesperson Brian Hamer refused to speculate on how long the koalas are expected to stay in the area after their trees are felled, or if they would try and cross the road. “We just don't know what wildlife is going to do, and they could move in any direction,” he said.

When it comes to translocation, there are established concerns about stress and potential issues with adjustment to new habitat, but rescuers believe the freeway poses a much greater welfare risk because crossing it could cause death.

Robertson called the Conservation Regulator's decision “archaic” and warned thousands more koalas to the southwest of the state also face losing their homes in the coming years as thousands of hectares of blue gum plantations are logged. “There’ll be nowhere to relocate them, because there’s not enough native habitat to sustain those koalas,” she said. “They’re just going to perish trying to find other habitat which isn’t there.”

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