WARNING - CONFRONTING IMAGES: At least four koalas have been found incinerated after a Victoria Government planned burn-off on Tuesday in state’s south-west, according to multiple reports.
Two were found dead, and another pair were euthanised after suffering severe dehydration and burns.
One anonymous source, who attended the 10-hectare-site at Mount Richmond National Park, told Yahoo News Australia the surviving koalas were in agony, with one audibly groaning in pain.
"One in particular, his burns were shocking. Absolutely shocking," they said.
"His back feet were burned, all the fur on his ears was singed."
The surviving animals are believed to have suffered without treatment for days until a bushwalker tipped off rescue groups about their plight.
It’s feared at least seven other koalas could still be within the fire zone, but the danger of smouldering sink holes has hampered efforts to assist them.
Authorities investigating reports of koala deaths
The Department of Environment (DELWP) confirmed it was investigating the impact of the “low-intensity burn”.
Images and witness statements indicate a number of manna-gums, a prime koala feed tree, were burned to the top of the canopy.
“They seem to have just burned everything, the fires are so big and hot,” the bushwalker said.
DELWP said inspectors are on hand before and after burn-offs, to “to mitigate impacts on wildlife”.
As part of its process, the department generally check the burn perimeter prior to ignition and protect trees with koalas in them.
Witnesses to the destruction question why the koalas were not detected earlier as the trees are no taller than a one-story-house and were largely denuded of leaves following the burn-off.
All four animals were found close to a bush track and there are clear signs they had been flourishing in the area prior to the burn.
“They've burned all the trees out there, where we found the dead ones,” the first source said.
“There's koala poo everywhere out there, and it’s clear there had been healthy populations living in the forest.”
'Can't see how they would have made such a blatant mistake'
Anthony Amis from conservation non-profit Friends of the Earth, attended the scene on Sunday, and told Yahoo News Australia he’d never seen such density of koala poo in a forest before.
“For the people that lit the fires to go into that spot and not realise it was prime koala habitat, well I'm really scratching my head about that,” he said.
“I can't see how they would have made such a blatant mistake. I really can’t.
“(It appears), it was such an intense burn that the animals were killed in the trees and just dropped dead.”
Unlike NSW, the ACT and Queensland, Victoria's koalas are not protected as an endangered species under Commonwealth conservation laws.
Wildlife rescuers are concerned the state's populations are under threat, and could be subject to localised extinctions due to industry, habitat loss and climate change.
Environment minister set to be quizzed on koala burn deaths
It's understood hundreds of hectares of national park could be subject to planned burns in the coming months.
After becoming aware of the incident, Animal Justice Party politician Andy Meddick told Yahoo News Australia on Sunday night he would take the issue up with Victoria's environment minister Lily D'Ambrosio.
"There are reports coming in about... koalas being burned alive during a planned burn," he said.
"I will speak to the minister first thing in the morning to seek to halt any further planned burns in the area until this has been investigated.
"If there must be further planned burns, then steps must be put in place to undertake koala counts, and move these animals to safer areas."
Anyone requiring help for injured native animals can contact Wildlife Victoria on (03) 8400 7300.
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