Victorian authorities have euthanised more than a quarter of koalas health-checked at a national park in the state’s southwest.
Of the 93 animals examined at the UNESCO World Heritage-listed Budj Bim site, 28 were found to have health issues and be unviable. Of the 58 females assessed, 34 received fertility control.
The Department of Environment (DELWP) said the health assessments were undertaken by vets from Zoos Victoria, who focused on body condition, weight, visual indications of injury or disease, and dental health. While many koala advocates oppose such high numbers of euthanasia, DELWP maintains decisions are made to “ensure the most humane outcomes" for koalas and "prevent further suffering".
It’s the second health check implemented by DELWP at Budj Bim this year. In May, vets euthanised 30 of the 125 koalas they assessed. It has two more programs planned at the site over the next two years, and they will likely occur in Spring and Autumn.
It remains unclear whether any of the koalas that passed inspection that time failed when reexamined later in the year. The poor health of the animals has been linked to “overpopulation” at the site.
While there are large numbers of healthy gum trees across the national park, DELWP has indicated the situation is complex as the koalas have a “preference for specific types of gum and even individual trees”.
Why are koalas being euthanised in Victoria?
“When there’s an overpopulation in one area, such as Budj Bim, koalas damage or kill food trees, such as Manna Gums, by stripping all their leaves,” a spokesperson said. “This results in the koalas food supply becoming limited and affects their health.”
The department also has concerns for the health of older manna gums which are still recovering from the 2019/2020 Black Summer bushfires.
While feed supply in the national park itself may be limited, there are thousands of blue gums fenced off in plantations nearby. This species of eucalypt is a “preferred food source” of koalas, according to DELWP.
Around 170,000 acres of blue gum plantations were set up in the 1990s, in a region close to the South Australian border known as the Green Triangle. Once the trees are harvested, koalas living in the area are displaced. The logged trees are primarily used for wood chips, many of which are then routinely sent to China and Japan to create high-quality paper.
Estimates of the number of koalas living in Victoria range from less than 25,000 to over 400,000. Of the koalas that live in plantations, it’s believed the southwest region is home to about 90 per cent of them. It remains unclear what will happen to the thousands of koalas living in plantations once they are all cut down.
Unlike in NSW, Queensland and ACT, koalas are not federally protected in Victoria and are considered abundant in some areas. Most koalas in Victoria have less genetic diversity than those to its north because of a near-extinction event more than 100 years ago that occurred due to hunting and habitat loss.
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