Hundreds of charges leveled after dozens of koalas die in Cape Bridgewater

The Victorian Conservation Regulator has issued more than 250 animal cruelty charges for a killing of koalas at a former timber plantation in the southwest of the state in February last year.

Dozens of koalas were found dead at the former partially cleared timber plantation in Cape Bridgewater, near Portland, in February 2020.

A crime scene was opened after 21 koalas were found dead at the site.

49 other koalas were euthanized following injuries sustained during clearing, while more than 200 animals are believed to have been disturbed at the site.

The owner of the former plantation has faced 126 animal cruelty charges, as has a logging and earthmoving company.

They are accused of cleaning up habitat that has injured and caused unreasonable pain or suffering to dozens of koalas, and destroying koalas, which are a protected species.

A separate outsourcing company has also been charged with a cruelty offense for disturbing the koala population.

“Forensic” investigation into the death of the koalas

Chief conservation regulator Kate Gavens said a full investigation resulted in numerous charges.

“We understand the concerns of the community regarding this matter and we have ensured a thorough investigation, which has led to these accusations,” Ms. Gavens said.

“Techniques such as forensic radiography and pathology were applied to all deceased animals found on the property to help determine when and how the animals died.”

Koalas, like all wildlife in Victoria, are protected under the Wildlife Act 1975 and the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act.

A separate outsourcing company has also been charged with a cruelty offense for disturbing the koala population.

The defendants have not yet pleaded

“I can’t take the smile off my face”

Helen Oakley, a resident of Cape Bridgewater, sobbed when she discovered the emaciated and dead koalas on a nighttime walk.

Video of her collapsing and crying amid the destruction sparked the investigation which resulted in the charges.

Ms Oakley said she has been waiting a long time for legal action to begin.

“I’m delighted, having waited so long – I can’t get the smile off my face,” she said.

A koala lies on the grass appearing dead on a bright day.
Dozens of koalas have died in the incident, which took place on private land near Portland. (Facebook: Hélène Oakley)

Ms Oakley said she had weathered a storm of online abuse from her video, including “a lot of very nasty personal attacks”.

“I have received messages from people telling me that I owe Cape Bridgewater an apology and that I have to leave town,” she said.

And while she still suffers from the trauma of her experience, Ms Oakley said she was relieved the ordeal was hopefully ending.

“I still think about koalas every day,” she said.

The maximum penalty for an animal cruelty charge is $ 109,044 for a business and $ 45,435 or 12 months in prison for an individual.

The case is expected to be heard by Portland Magistrates’ Court in February.

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