Regulators in the Australian state of Victoria have slapped over 250 animal cruelty charges over the alleged mass killing of koalas.
Dozens of koalas – a protected species in Victoria – were found dead at the partially cleared timber plantation at Cape Bridgewater in February last year.
At first, 21 animals were found dead at the plantation. Another 49 koalas, however, were later euthanised because of injuries or dehydration.
An estimated 200 koalas were affected during the clearing process, according to the Victorian Conservation Regulator.
The owner of the plantation and an earthmoving business have been accused of killing the animals and slapped with 126 animal cruelty charges each. Another contracting business has also been charged with one cruelty offence.
Each charge carries a maximum penalty of 12 months in prison.
Kate Gavens, the chief conservation regulator, said the numerous charges were the result of an exhaustive investigation.
“We understand the community’s concerns about this case and we have ensured a thorough investigation, which led to these charges,” Ms Gavens told ABC News.
Techniques such as forensic radiography and pathology were undertaken on the dead animals to assist and determine when and how the animals died, she added.
Helen Oakley, a local resident, had told the Australian broadcaster that she discovered the emaciated and dead koalas on an evening walk and posted a video in which she could be seen crying upon seeing the deaths.
The video had prompted the investigation into the mass deaths. “I’m ecstatic, after waiting so long — I can’t wipe the smile off my face,” she said.
“I still think about the koalas every day.”
More than 60,000 koalas were killed, injured or displaced during the 2020 bushfires that had swept Australia, according to a World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) estimate.
South Australia’s Kangaroo Island was the worst-hit area, with some 40,000 koalas impacted by the fires, followed by nearly 11,000 in Victoria and 8,000 in New South Wales.
A 2016 report by a panel of koala experts had put the koala population in Australia at 329,000 but the number has been reducing exponentially due to bushfires.
This article by Alisha Rahaman Sarkar was first published by The Independent on 24 December 2021. Lead Image: An estimated 200 koalas were affected during the clearing process, says regulator (Getty Images).
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