A property owner is facing 126 charges of animal cruelty in the Geelong Magistrates Court over the deaths of koalas in the state’s south-west.
The animals were found dead on a property at Cape Bridgewater, near Portland, after contractors were hired to remove a former bluegum plantation in 2019 and 2020.
Forest and Wildlife Officers responded to reports of injured and starving koalas at the property soon after after the work was done, prompting an investigation by the state’s Conservation Regulator.
The contractor was fined $79,000 in the Warrnambool Magistrates Court after pleading guilty to four counts of animal cruelty and one of aggravated cruelty.
Magistrate Gerard Lethbridge said while the contractor’s actions did not appear to be deliberately cruel, they had nonetheless caused “a great deal of harm” to scores of koalas.
Mr Lethbridge said contractors need to understand that their obligations extend well beyond simply doing what they are told to do by the party that hires them.
The court was told 21 koalas were already dead when found. Of the 227 that survived, a further 40 were so in such poor condition they had to be euthanised.
Prosecutors said the animals were unable to escape from the heavy machinery used to fell the forest because fencing had been erected aorund its boundaries.
The charges against the property’s owner includes 18 relating to aggravated cruelty for causing fatal injuries to koalas.
The case is currently before Geelong Magistrates Court.