IN THE NEWS: On FEB 3, 2020
The man accused of a "massacre" of dozens of koalas in the state’s south-west says he will accept the legal consequences of his actions, but that the incident, which has caused a global outcry online, has been blown out of proportion by activists.
An angry Victorian government was threatening a tough legal response on Monday to the destruction which has seen 40 animals confirmed dead so far, a number that is expected to grow, and about 80 koalas treated and removed from the property.
But Keith Troeth, who cleared the former blue gum plantation his family owns at Cape Bridgewater last week, says that most of the koalas found dead on the land died of starvation.
Mr Troeth told The Age that a small number of animals may have perished while the land, which was logged in November, was cleared with bulldozers last week despite "every effort to avoid fatalities".
Department of Environment workers were still combing about 10 kilometres of rows of slash pile on the 60 hectare property on Monday morning, looking for more dead and injured koalas and the state’s Environment Minister Lily D’Ambrosio was talking tough, pledging to "throw every penalty" at those responsible.
But the farmer, who manages the property on behalf of his father Russell Troeth, said the numbers of dead koalas had been vastly inflated by local activists.
"There may have been one or two koalas killed and I’ll wear the responsibility, but it's not the big hoo-ha it's been made out to be," Keith Troeth told The Age.
The logging of the blue gum plantation, a common land use in the area, was completed in November, Mr Troeth said, with handover documents completed by the forestry contractors indicating there were 72 koalas on the property at the time.
But he said the family was powerless to stop dozens more animals making their way onto the property in the following months, looking to feed on regrowth leaves.
Well in excess of 100 koalas are believed to have been present when the bulldozers moved in last week to clear the ground ahead of a planned return of the land to pasture. Mr Troeth dismissed claims circulated online that up to 500 koalas had died.
"We made every effort to do it professionally, we made every effort to minimise any fatality," Mr Troeth said.
He said the online outrage over the incident was affecting him personally.
"I’m not stressed for myself, it’s more that people are using the koalas for their own agenda," he said.
Ms D’Ambrosio said she was angry and heartbroken over the koala deaths, and promised to bring the full force of the law to bear over the destruction.
"The devastation that has befallen the koalas in this part of Portland is an abysmal act and one that rightly makes me angry, makes me heartbroken and I know that many Victorians are feeling the same way today," the minister said,
"We will do everything possible to bring the people who are responsible for this to account and to throw every penalty that is available to us at them.
"This can never be repeated."