Close to two years after an investigation into the deaths of koalas in southwest Victoria began, more than 250 charges have been laid.
Twenty-one koalas were found dead and 49 were euthanised by wildlife officers after the logging of a property at Cape Bridgewater, 380km west of Melbourne, in February 2020.
A crime scene was established by the state’s Conservation Regulator who allege 70 of the animals deceased or euthanised were likely experiencing pain or suffering from dehydration, or starvation following the land clearing.
Of that number, 25 had fractures.
Over 120 koalas were released into the wild, and 70 were taken in to care, of which 60 survived.
The landholder and an earth moving business will each face 126 charges in relation to Victoria's animal cruelty and wildlife acts.
These include 18 aggravated cruelty charges relating to causing fatal injuries.
After yesterday's announcement, Victoria’s Chief Conservation Regulator Kate Gavens said the investigation had been “thorough” and the community’s concerns around the case are understood.
“Our investigation included gathering a large volume of evidence from the crime scene, as well as mobile devices and witness statements,” she said in a statement.
“Techniques such as forensic radiography and pathology were undertaken on all deceased animals discovered on the property to assist in determining when and how the animals died.”
'Waiting a long time for this'
News of the incident was broken by local resident Helen Oakley who posted a teary message to Facebook, along with images alleged to show injured koalas.
Speaking with Yahoo News on Saturday February 1, before news of the incident broke, she described the scene as smelling “like death”, alleging that the whole block had “been flattened.”
Almost two years on, she said her discovery “still feels very raw” as she drives by the site most days.
“That feeling of despair, and helplessness… and the heat, and the (alleged) suffering of the koalas that were sitting there fenced in without food and water and unable to get out, it all comes back to me,” she said.
“It’s sort of like a post-traumatic stress feeling that comes over me.
“I try to turn away and not look at the paddock because it makes me feel quite depressed at what was there and what’s not there now.”
Ms Oakley said she welcomed the news that charges had been laid, adding she feels “pretty ecstatic”.
“I’ve been waiting a long time for this,” she said.
The maximum penalty for a single charge of animal cruelty leading to death is $218,088 for a business, and $90,870 or two years' imprisonment for an individual.
The issue is listed to sit before the Portland Magistrates Court on 22 February, 2022.
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