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Multiple Koala Cruelty Case Starts in Portland

The Mention Hearing at the Portland Magistrates’ Court starts today for the infamous koala “massacre” which occurred near Portland in late January 2020.

According to the Office of the Conservation Regulator: The owner of a Cape Bridgewater property and two companies have been charged with a total of 253 animal cruelty offences for their alleged involvement in clearing the property in the state’s South West, which disturbed more than 200 koalas, including at least 70 which were injured and killed or had to be euthanised.

The landowner faces 126 charges under the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act 1986 and the Wildlife Act 1975, including aggravated cruelty charges for causing fatal injuries. A forest and earthmoving business is facing the same 126 charges.

The incident was picked up nationally and internationally through hundreds of media outlets after being brought to their attention by Friends of the Earth. FoE was horrified that koalas were apparently bulldozed into windrows and many of those not killed outright were left to die of multiple injuries.

One of the dead koalas found on the site in February 2020

According to CNN: “In a statement at the time, Conservation group Friends of the Earth Australia called the incident a "koala massacre," adding it was "alarmed that such wanton destruction and widespread death and injuries continue to plague the south west Victorian plantation industry."

Whilst FoE did not discover the massacre, we were the conduit for the information to be broadcast. Without our work it would have been likely that the massacre would have been “covered up”, with "no one being the wiser".

Photo of the "massacre site" taken in February 2020. Much of the remaining vegetation on the site had been bulldozed into windrows.

The koala "massacre" was one of the catalysts for the Victorian State Government implementing a review of the Wildlife Act in 2020/21. (The other two catalysts were the poisoning of hundreds of Wedge Tail Eagles at Tubbut East Gippsland in 2018* and the poisoning of eagles and other birds at Violet Town in northern Victoria in 2019**). A concern to FOE however is that the koala case will be heard without the review to the Wildlife Act being completed, meaning that the clearly antiquated 47 year old Wildlife Act be used instead.

(*In regards to the Tubbut incident, a farmworker was jailed for "only" 2 weeks and fined $2500 for poisoning 406 eagles (that amounts to $6 for each eagle!!!) and the property owner received a 100 hour correction order over 12 months and ordered to pay $25,000 to a court fund).

(**In regards to the Violet Town incident a landowner was charged with 291 breaches of the Wildlife Act 1975 and the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act 1985. In regards to this case a five-day contested hearing will be held at Shepparton Magistrates’ Court from March 28 2022).

In February 2021 Friends of the Earth again was the key messenger for information regarding terrible treatment of a burnt koala in Portland. A koala had been dumped in a park after being burnt at Portland Aluminium Smelter. FoE then revealed that this was not the first time these problems had occurred at the smelter. Over a five year period over 100 koalas had entered the facility with some being injured. Alcoa have since promised to resolve the problem.

Koala suffering from bad burns after being burnt in Alcoa's Aluminium smelter anode room. Friends of the Earth has also heard about koalas near the smelter suffering from bone deformities, including koalas with no claws, due possibly to fluorosis.

FoE also continues mapping koala populations in the Strzelecki Ranges and has also started a similar map to highlight koala mismanagement in the state’s south west. Whilst the Strzelecki’s continues to remain our key focus, due to the unique genetics of the Strzelecki animals, we are more than aware of problems elsewhere in the state and try to deal with these issues as best as we can.

"The massacre occurred just over 2 years ago", said Friends of the Koala campaigner, Anthony Amis. "This is a significant case in terms of animal rights locally, nationally and internationally. Many people around the world will be watching what happens with this case. Even when the hearing date was listed in December 2021, major media outlets across the world picked up on the story. Many observers will be "casting a critical eye" on the State Government, particularly in terms of the weaknesses of the existing Wildlife Act.

"Victoria's koala policies will also be open for criticism internationally. The recent decision to classify koalas as Endangered in New South Wales, A.C.T. and Queensland will only intensify concerns and interest in regards to koala populations in Victoria. It is also interesting to note that the Victorian Government publicly released its koala management plan yesterday, only one day before the Mention Hearing in Portland. This is the first time the plan has been updated in 18 years!

For years Friends of the Earth has been highlighting koala incidents and mismanagement in Victoria, including documenting many ongoing and unresolved koala issues in the Portland and Gippsland areas. Why should it be left to poorly resourced ENGO's, often operating in very risky environments, to hold the Government and landholders responsible. Hopefully the publicity from this case will dissuade anyone else  from ever doing these acts again."

Feb 2022 Update: Friends of the Earth has concerns that a bluegum plantation located a couple of km's north of the current case site could have even higher numbers of koalas and is due to be logged soon.

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