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An inquiry has been launched into the logging practices on Kangaroo Island following the circulation of distressing images showing deceased koalas.
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An inquiry has been launched into the logging practices on Kangaroo Island following the circulation of distressing images showing deceased koalas.

The government and RSPCA officials are currently conducting an investigation into the harvesting of blue gum plantations on Kangaroo Island. This comes after the South Australian deputy premier condemned the “horrific” footage depicting koalas purportedly being harmed and killed.

The logging activity has been suspended during the ongoing investigation. This comes after Guardian Australia released images of severely injured and deceased koalas, and the Seven Network aired footage of koalas desperately clinging to and being thrown from collapsing blue gum trees.

Former workers for the Australian Agribusiness Group, who were in charge of maintaining the plantation estate, reported making efforts to rescue around 40 wounded koalas. They also witnessed the deaths of approximately 20 koalas as the land was being cleared for farming purposes.

Under the condition of not being identified, they claimed that certain employees of the company did not follow instructions to leave trees with koalas, which were identified by trained observers. Former workers and the president of the Kangaroo Island Wildlife Network, Katie Welz, reported injuries like shattered skulls, jaws, arms, and hips.

Susan Close, the deputy premier and environment minister of South Australia, stated in parliament that the distressing pictures of koalas getting hurt in blue gum plantations on Kangaroo Island due to logging activities have shocked everyone.

Last Thursday, she announced a new rule that mandates companies seeking to clear Kangaroo Island plantations to have a revised koala management strategy. This means that the Australian Agribusiness Group must halt their activities until they can prove to me that they have implemented an appropriate plan. According to her, they will be allowed to resume their clearances as long as they do so in a manner that does not endanger koalas.

The department confirmed that they have restarted a probe on the well-being of koalas, which originally started in 2021 and was closed due to lack of proof of any illegal actions. Officials from the Department for Environment and Water, along with the RSPCA, inspected Kangaroo Island on Thursday.

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During an interview with ABC local radio, Close expressed her shock at witnessing the “extreme anguish and suffering” of the koalas. She added that it was “completely unacceptable” to see animals in such a condition and that it undoubtedly affected everyone who saw it.

The Australian Agribusiness Group announced that they temporarily stopped logging in order for their harvest and wildlife protection teams to collaborate on ways to enhance their methods.

“Our teams have decided to increase their efforts and be more vigilant in protecting all of our workers. This includes dedicating more resources to spotting koalas and placing a greater emphasis on safeguarding the local animal population,” stated a company spokesperson.

The business, hired by Kiland Ltd land owners to oversee the plantation, stated that it was adhering to established environmental practices for land management, including a sanctioned plan for managing koalas. It also confirmed that its team has successfully identified and safeguarded 4,000 koalas in the last 15 months, and followed protocol by leaving a group of nine trees when a koala was spotted.

“The spokesperson stated that we are exceeding the standard practices for wildlife management. However, due to recent criticism, some facts about our practices may have been overlooked.”

The Australian Agribusiness Group and Australian Agribusiness (Holdings) Pty Ltd are two distinct and unassociated companies. The latter company has not been accused of any wrongdoing.

During an interview on ABC radio, Close was prompted to give his thoughts on the Australian Agribusiness Group’s claim that they were performing significantly better than the industry standard. Close responded by acknowledging that he had watched the video, but was unsure if it truly showcased their above-average performance.

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David Speirs, the opposition leader of South Australia, also mentioned on the ABC that the Liberal party is in favor of the modification in regulation. He stated that the event has caused “a scandal not only in our nation, but globally.”

“I received a message from my cousin in Scotland last night asking about our handling of the koalas. This situation is causing great shame…It’s truly unacceptable,” he stated.

According to Spiers, the concept of using only a group of nine trees to protect koalas in a landscape that has been otherwise cleared is “strange” in his opinion.

The topic of koala well-being is a subject of much debate on Kangaroo Island. Despite being classified as endangered in places like New South Wales, Queensland, and the Australian Capital Territory, they were treated as a nuisance on Kangaroo Island until the devastating black summer bushfires, which destroyed half of the island.

About one hundred years ago, the species was brought to the island and the number of individuals increased to over 50,000 – a level deemed unsustainable by scientists. However, due to fires, the population has decreased to approximately 15,000, with around 3,000 found in blue gum plantations.

The fires have caused significant harm to Kiland’s 18,000 hectares (44,500 acres) of plantations on Kangaroo Island, resulting in the removal of blue gums due to their classification as a high fire hazard.

According to Welz, the wildlife network does not support keeping the plantations as they are, but suggests not cutting them down until a koala management plan is in place. Welz wrote to Close and the department last year regarding this matter, but no action was taken until the pictures gained publicity.

Australian Senator Sarah Hanson-Young of the Green Party has stated that logging should be temporarily halted until an impartial inquiry is conducted and measures are taken to safeguard koalas. She expressed her disappointment that the issue was brought to the attention of the Labor party last year, but no significant action has been taken.

Source: theguardian.com