“THE most horrific act of animal cruelty this area has seen in a long time.”
These were the words of Hamilton Wildlife Shelter licenced operator, Shelly Burrowes, following the recent incident at Cape Bridgewater, where a number of koalas were found starving and injured.
Around 80 koalas have been released from the private property near Portland since Friday, with 75 still on the property.
Thirty-one have been euthanised due to poor condition with the remaining koalas distributed to surrounding wildlife shelters.
Ms Burrowes said shelters in the south-west have been inundated with koalas since the discovery late last week.
“I received six the other night, so it was a pretty full on that night for me,” she said.
“I normally only cater for birds and possums in my aviaries so I had to strip out the branches and put in different types of branches for the koalas and get fresh leaf for them all, so it was a pretty full on night.
“I know they have a lot more they need to get It is just a crisis, having so many injured at once, we have never seen anything like this at once - Hamilton Wildlife Shelter’s Shelly Burrowes down and check, they are spreading them out over all the shelters in the area.
“Most shelters can only hold maybe a dozen and we’re talking dozens and dozens that need to be in care.”
Appealing for blue gum branches on Facebook Monday night, Ms Burrowes said she was thankful for the support she received from the community.
“You’ve got to give them fresh leaves every day, so I had people donating some blue gum that they chopped down because I didn’t have any for them – it was a massive load off me for people to donate,” she said.
“It is a pretty horrific thing to happen in the south-west.”
The koalas that have come in have been distressed, dehydrated and bruised, Ms Burrowes said.
“The ones that I had only needed 36 hours of care before they could get released and some of the others need to stay in here longer,” she said.
“One is so stressed he isn’t eating, another one that I have is very sore and I think that some of the trees fell on him when they were bulldozed, so they need to stay in care longer before they can go off again into the wild.”
Plantation company, South West Fibre (SWF) initially logged the site in November last year.
The company told The Spectator that SWF managed the site to ensure no koalas were injured or hurt during their harvest process.
“SWF left 12 hectares of plantation blue gum for 72 koalas,” a spokesperson said.
The company said it followed the SWF Koala Management Plan during the time of harvest.
The property owner allegedly bulldozed the remainder of inhabited trees last week.
According to The Age, landowner, Keith Troeth said he will accept the legal consequences of his actions, but added most of the koalas died due to starvation.
Ms Burrowes said the owner’s actions have led to a sickening koala crisis in the area.
“It is just a crisis, having so many injured at once, we have never seen anything like this at once, even when logging companies might accidently log a tree with koala in it, you’re only talking about a few at a time,” she said.
“But this case has just been so malicious - to go in knowing there are hundreds of koalas in there and bulldoze the trees anyway.”
The Department of Environment, Land, Water and Planning will be working with the conservation regulator’s major investigation team to uncover how the incident happened.
All wildlife in Victoria are protected under the Wildlife Act 1975.
Killing or disturbing wildlife can attract a maximum penalty of up to $8000 and/or six months imprisonment.
An additional fine of more than $820 per head of wildlife may also apply.
The investigation teams are also looking at a range of charges under the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act.
Wildlife welfare assessment and triage will continue this week with qualified carers and vets on site.
A crime scene has been established at Cape Bridgewater and anyone with information about the koala incident is urged to contact Crime Stoppers on 1800 333 000.