More than 100 koalas relocated from site of 'hazardous' Alcoa smelter

Michael Dahlstrom
·News and Video Producer
·4-min read

A US-based aluminium smelter operating in Victoria has vowed to review its wildlife handling procedures, days after a koala it dropped at a nearby golf course was later treated for horrific burns.

While Alcoa say no injuries were observed when the animal left their site, they have acknowledged that a number of koalas have wandered onto their Portland operational zone over the last five years.

The company confirmed it has relocated 103 koalas since 2015, with one koala found deceased on the smelter grounds.

They said in a statement they are "deeply committed to (their) environmental management responsibilities" and will now update their procedures for the safe handling of koalas and develop a management plan.

A koala found at a golf course in Portland had severe burns to its feet. Source: Supplied
A koala found at a golf course in Portland had severe burns to its feet. Source: Supplied

'Disappointing': Environmentalist responds to Alcoa's koala plan

Alcoa has operated in Portland since 1986, a coastal town famous for its large population of koalas.

Gaps large enough for wildlife were found in the fencing surrounding Alcoa's operational zone during an investigation by Friends of the Earth's Anthony Amis.

The cavities, which Mr Amis says were measured at between 22cm high and 30 metres long, have since been filled and Alcoa has promised to review its processes, but with koalas frequently entering the site, he is surprised action wasn’t taken earlier.

The aluminium smelter in Portland has been in operation since 1986. Source: Getty
The aluminium smelter in Portland has been in operation since 1986. Source: Getty

“There’s clearly been a problem there since 2015, and it's disappointing to us that the company still hasn't got a koala management plan,” he told Yahoo News Australia.

“They had to relocate over 100 animals without really having a strategy of how to do that, so we’re a bit bamboozled about why that's occurred.”

Alcoa did not directly respond to a question by Yahoo News Australia about whether it has a koala management plan in place.

Concern for koalas living in smelter's buffer zone

A specialist koala carer living in Portland told Yahoo News Australia she raised concerns with Alcoa last year about the health of koalas living in the smelter's 17 hectare plantation, which is located within its 500 hectare buffer zone.

She said this discussion followed her discovery of two koalas in the plantation in May which had to be euthanised due to their condition.

One was “starving to death” and covered in ticks, according to the rescuer, while photographs show another animal with missing claws on her paws.

Wildlife carers have found koalas suffering from ill health within the smelter's buffer zone. Source: Supplied
Wildlife carers have found koalas suffering from ill health within the smelter's buffer zone. Source: Supplied

Alcoa said in a statement that when koala numbers exceed one per hectare it can affect their welfare, and there were an average of 10 per hectare living in the 17 hectare plantation near the site.

Research commissioned by Alcoa on koalas living in the smelter’s buffer zone in 2020 found many others were in bad condition.

Their survey of 114 koalas resulted in 40 being put down due to “poor health”, with 72 returned to the surrounding area.

Healthy female koalas were given fertility control to help reduce breeding rates.

The euthanised animals are being analysed by the University of Melbourne, with necropsies due to be carried out in the coming months.

A koala missing nails was euthanised after specialist vets determined it would not recover. Source: Supplied
A koala missing nails was euthanised after specialist vets determined it would not recover. Source: Supplied

Alcoa said the information gleaned from this survey will help inform their management plan for koalas living nearby.

Wildlife affected by Alcoa smelter for 10 years

Fluorosis, a condition linked to aluminium manufacture, is known to have impacted some wildlife around the site.

The illness occurs after excessive levels of fluoride build up in an animal’s body, affecting the teeth and bones.

A study of kangaroos living in the smelter’s buffer zone over a decade ago found many had deformed bones and teeth.

Since evidence consistent with fluorosis was found, Alcoa said they have implemented a “macropod management plan” which includes modifying the landscape.

They say their ongoing monitoring of the issue shows their plan, which has included replacing grazing habitat with shrubs, has been successful.

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