WARNING - CONFRONTING IMAGES: Large numbers of koalas are being routinely euthanised in Victoria’s southwest by industry, government, and veterinarians as habitat loss impacts the species' health.
Almost a third of the 125 koalas assessed by the department of environment (DELWP) at the Budj Bim dormant volcano site were put to sleep following “health checks” in May.
Seventy kilometres away at the Portland aluminium smelter, American industrial giant Alcoa performed its own “koala health assessment” in April – its third since 2020.
Unlike DELWP, the New York Stock Exchange-listed company has refused to release details of how many koalas it euthanised, assessed, or treated.
“We do not see value in releasing detailed figures or results from individual health assessments,” an Alcoa spokesperson said.
Alcoa now plans to log blue gum plantations surrounding its site, which wildlife rescuers argue will add further pressure on an already stressed population.
Koala rescuer exhausted by escalating number of rescues
Over the last 14 days, 22 koalas were rescued by one volunteer alone.
Janet Murray has been caring for wildlife for 15 years, and she’s never seen things worse.
She’s exhausted from ferrying koalas to the vet, as well as rescuing and caring for the animals, which she finds displaced after logging.
Frustrated and feeling like she’s not receiving any support from authorities, she's shared a series of heartbreaking images of recent rescues. Almost all of the koalas pictured were euthanised.
“I feel that nobody wants to address the issue in the southwest because of the timber industry, and the jobs it brings,” she said.
"Logging coups keep coming down and koalas they've got nowhere to go."
How harvesting timber plantations leads to koala deaths
Unlike in NSW, Queensland and ACT, koalas are not federally protected in Victoria and are considered abundant in some areas.
Lacking the same conservation status, the animals are frequently displaced when the timber plantations they call home are logged for wood chips, which are then routinely sent to China and Japan.
As koalas lose their homes and try to relocate, they come into contact with dogs, livestock, cars and trucks. Others become sick from starvation, renal failure or chlamydia.
Koalas continue to be negatively impacted despite state regulations requiring industry to minimise impacts the species' welfare.
Animal Justice Party MLC Andy Meddick argues there is "scant regard for (koala) lives" when it comes to timber harvesting.
"The world is watching and they're not happy," he told Yahoo News Australia.
When bluegum plantations were set up in the 1990s, in a region close to the South Australian border known as the Green Triangle, it was believed koalas wouldn’t take to that eucalypt species.
Instead, they developed a taste for its leaves and flourished in the 130,000 hectares of hardwood plantations within their distribution range.
The abundance of food led to steady growth of population and in turn over-browsing of nearby forested areas including national parks and private land, which they flee to after logging.
"We just keep repeating the cycle. We move the animals on, they move into another area, and they eat out that area because you've got increased population," Mr Meddick said.
"Then they come under stress, they become emaciated, they starve, they become diseased, and then we do it again, and again."
Questions raised over government burn which killed koalas
In April, a state government prescribed burn inside the Mount Richmond National Park, 20km west of Portland claimed the lives of at least four koalas.
It followed burns in nearby Drik Drik and Milltown, areas where Ms Murray subsequently found more scorched koalas.
On Saturday, she along with DELWP stafe and Mr Meddick visited the Mount Richmond site.
Mr Meddick said that while he understood the reason for the prescribed burn, he has little faith in the methods used to survey the area for signs of wildlife.
"It doesn't instil a lot of confidence in planned burns going forward"
He is also frustrated that authorities did not follow "good common sense" and engage with rescue groups before the burn, so they could be on hand to assist with injured animals.
Pointing to the koala's endangered listing in the northern states, Mr Meddick says there is still time to act in Victoria.
"We've destroyed their populations to the point now where they were the governments are going: Oh God, what happened?," he said.
"We all saw it, we tried to warn you, and you did nothing. Now when we're in that situation.
"I don't want to see that happen in Victoria,"
DELWP is developing a new Victorian Koala Management Strategy, and a public consultation period will begin in the coming months which will be accessible via the Engage Victoria website.
Attempts have been made to contact a major timber harvesting company in Victoria's southwest.
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