No, Really: Australia Has a Good Reason for Killing Almost 700 Koalas

Officials secretly culled koalas on the country’s southern coast because the animals were starving to death.

(Photo: Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)

Mar 4, 2015· 1 MIN READ
Taylor Hill is an associate editor at TakePart covering environment and wildlife.

Koalas are having a rough go of it lately. Between dehydration from Australia’s historic drought and singed paws thanks to recent brushfires, extreme weather has given the furry marsupials more than enough to deal with.

Now another threat has emerged: the Australian government.

On Wednesday, an official confirmed that between 2013 and 2014, the government secretly euthanized 686 koalas in Australia’s Cape Otway National Park because the local population had grown bigger than the park could sustain.

"The intervention was necessary to prevent suffering of koalas because they weren't able to find enough food," said Lisa Neville, environment minister for the state of Victoria, in a statement.

The koalas had stripped the area's eucalyptus trees bare, according to the government.

"The whole of the cape smelled of dead koalas. It smelled like death," Frank Fotinas, manager of a campsite near the park, told the Australian Broadcasting Company.

Conservationists questioned the government's justification for the cull.

"If this science, guised as a cull, was so important, why was it done in secret?" Australian Koala Foundation director Deborah Tabart wrote on the group's Facebook page. "Koala numbers at Cape Otway are a result of gross mismanagement. The Australian government should hang its head in shame."

Neville said that she would be revisiting the overpopulation issues that led to the cull, which had been ordered by officials in an earlier political administration.

"It is clear that we have had koalas suffer in that Cape Otway area because of ill health and starvation," Neville said in a statement. "That's just not good enough, and that's a terrible way to treat koalas."

Despite the mass euthanization, the possibility of a future cull lingers. Cape Otway's koala population is still on the rise, and experts warn against moving koalas to other areas, as it often leads to greater suffering for the animals.

While Victoria grapples with koala overpopulation, in other parts of Australia koala numbers are in decline because of habitat loss, domestic dog attacks, brushfires, and car strikes.

The koala's true numbers are fuzzy, ranging from 43,000 to 200,000 individuals. But all estimates are much lower than the millions thought to have lived on the continent prior to European settlement.

In 2012, Australia listed the koala as vulnerable across the country, and threatened in states such as New South Wales and Queensland, where koala populations have fallen by as much as 40 percent since 1990.