The farmer accused of massacring dozens of koalas while bulldozing a blue gum plantation has claimed the animals had already died of starvation.
Just weeks after Australia’s worst bushfire season killed an estimated 8,000 koalas, another 40 were reportedly killed after the plantation in Portland, Victoria, was bulldozed.
The Victorian government was threatening legal action against the bulldozing, but father Keith Troeth insists most of the koalas on the land died of starvation.
Mr Troeth’s family owns the blue gum plantation and he told The Age only a small number of koalas may have been killed while it was bulldozed last week.
The land had been logged in November but the farmer said they had every effort to ‘avoid fatalities’.
‘We made every effort to do it professionally, we made every effort to minimise any fatality,’ Mr Troeth said.
The Department of Environment, Land, Water and Planning are investigating the incident.
Workers have been combing through the slash pile on the 60 hectare property in search of dead or injured koalas.
But Mr Troath said the number of dead koalas found on the property had been heavily inflated by local activists.
He said the logging was completed in November and they noted that 72 koalas were on the property during the time.
More than 100 animals are believed to have been on the property when it was bulldozed last week, but Mr Troath denies there being 500.
Mr Troath said he has been personally impacted by the outrage and overreaction caused online.
‘I’m not stressed for myself, it’s more that people are using the koalas for their own agenda,’ he said.
Victorian Environment Minister Lily D’Ambrosio vowed to penalise those responsibe.
‘We will do everything possible to bring the people who are responsible for this to account and to throw every penalty that is available to us at them,’ she said.
Registered nurse Helen Oakley surveyed the property over the weekend, claims it ‘smelt like death’ and said she saw dozens of dead and injured koalas.
In a tearful video explaining the devastation, Ms Oakley said the logging company ‘bulldozed 140 acres now and have just killed all of our koalas.’
‘There are koalas lying there dead,’ she said. ‘Mothers killed with their little babies.’
Local MP for the region Andy Meddick also spoke of his devastation after pictures of the dead koalas emerged on Sunday.
He said he would do all that he could within his electorate to get to the bottom of the situation and save the animals.
‘As bushfires ravage parts of our state, killing millions of native animals, a bluegum plantation full of koalas is being cleared in my electorate of Western Victoria,’ he said.
‘According to local sources, hundreds of koalas have been impacted. Some have been killed, many injured.’
Mr Meddick said a law was passed in January 2017 making it mandatory in the state for individuals or businesses to report koala deaths.
Ms Oakley told Yahoo News some of the surviving koalas were so badly injured medics were forced to euthanise them after rescuing them.
‘The surviving koalas are being brought down from trees and the vets are checking them for hydration and malnutrition as they’re all covered in ticks… a lot of them had to be euthanised’
She said one of the koalas which was later put to sleep was discovered with a broken arm.
‘I’ve never seen so many koalas in a concentrated area like this and so much death and smell.
‘I started thinking if these were humans what this would be like and I just lost it.’
Wildlife experts estimate at least 8,000 koalas have perished in Australia’s deadly bushfire season, which is almost a third of the entire population in New South Wales.
Ecologists say the animals may disappear from some regions and have to be reclassified as an endangered species.