AUTHORITIES have culled more than 680 koalas at Cape Otway to help reduce the impact of koala overpopulation.
State Environment Minister Lisa Neville confirmed this week that the previous State Government implemented the culling program which euthanised 686 koalas from the Otways.
The State Government culled the koalas as part of a welfare intervention operation because of the koalas’ low health levels and impact on manna gum trees in the region.
Authorities did three culls between September 2013 and March 2014 in consultation with Deakin University koala experts, the Bureau of Animal Welfare and Zoos Victoria.
Experts say a sustainable koala population should be less than one koala a hectare, but koalas at Cape Otway were reaching 20 koalas a hectare and dropped to 11 koalas a hectare after the program.
Wildlife Victoria chief executive officer Karen Masson said the organisation was “saddened” by the decision and hoped future programs were “more transparent”.
“If they had good sound expert advice and had adequately explored all other options then they should have been forthcoming with what they were doing and why,” she said.
Despite media reports that the program was a secret, Cape Otway’s Conservation Ecology Centre conservation and research manager Dr Jack Pascoe said the centre knew about the program.
Dr Pascoe said the growing population was impacting the koalas’ health because they were unable to access enough food due to damage to the manna gum trees caused by overeating by koalas.
“It was welfare intervention and the koalas were all assessed and seen to be well below the health levels they should have been at,” Dr Pascoe said.
“The decision to euthanise them stopped a massive amount of them from starving to death,” he said.
“We had a phenomenal number coming into care and that was just scraping the bottom of barrel compared to the amounts that were suffering.”
Ms Neville said koala overpopulation was a complex issue and she was seeking advice from biodiversity experts on the best options to prevent further suffering for koalas at Cape Otway.
“The department continues to assess koalas on an ongoing basis through a long-term koala management strategy for the Otways in consultation with landholders, Parks Victoria and koala experts.”
Dr Pascoe said it was difficult to relocate the koalas because there were limited options available and the koalas were often unable to cope with the move.
“Relocation’s been trialled, not from this population from other areas. Taking animals and moving them to another habitat is extremely difficult and I think it actually wouldn’t be ethical,” he said.