$34,000 fine for Cape Bridgewater landowner guilty of koala cruelty

A landowner has been fined $34,000 after admitting to wounding, and causing or likely causing unreasonable pain, suffering, and fatal injuries to 70 koalas when he cleared habitat from his Cape Bridgewater property in 2019 and 2020.

Published:
Friday, 23 February 2024 at 5:45 am
Land cleared leaving behind dirt and piles of blue gum trees

A landowner has been fined $34,000 without conviction after admitting to wounding, and causing or likely causing unreasonable pain, suffering, and fatal injuries to 70 koalas when he cleared habitat from his Cape Bridgewater property in 2019 and 2020.

The 85-year-old man pleaded guilty to four charges under the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act 1986, including three for cruelty and one for aggravated cruelty, at the Warrnambool Magistrates’ Court today.

The population of koalas were wounded, starved, dehydrated and/or killed after the man fenced the property and hired two companies to bulldoze more than 30 hectares of trees from the former blue gum plantation site.

The man intended to turn the land into sheep pastures and erected a 2.28-metre-high fence around the property to exclude pest animals, which experts and witnesses reported trapped koalas on the property.

In sentencing, Magistrate Lethbridge said that while the man’s actions were “not deliberately cruel”, he failed to meet his “obligations to prevent cruelty to animals”.

“The days have long passed when contractors and farmers can ride rough shot over wildlife,” his Honour said.

Conservation Regulator Forest and Wildlife Officers responded to reports of injured and starving koalas at the Cape Bridgewater property in January and February 2020.

Approximately 250 koalas were found at the site, and sadly, more than 70 of them were either deceased or required euthanasia. Vet assessment concluded that most of the animals were suffering from severe starvation and dehydration, and many had sustained major or unsurvivable injuries, including one koala found dead and impaled on a stick.

More than 180 koalas were released back into the wild at alternative locations either directly following the incident or once they had been rehabilitated.

The two businesses contracted by the landowner were also charged and pleaded guilty to their roles in clearing the property and disturbing the koala population.

In November 2023, a forestry and earthmoving business was convicted and fined $79,000 after pleading guilty to five animal cruelty charges, including one of aggravated cruelty, and in December 2022, a separate business was fined $20,000 after pleading guilty to one cruelty offence under the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act 1986.

All three court outcomes follow a major response and thorough investigation by the Conservation Regulator, with the assistance of wildlife volunteers, veterinarians, and staff from DEECA, Parks Victoria, Zoos Victoria, and Victoria Police.

Any information about wildlife crime should be reported to Crime Stoppers Victoria on 1800 333 000.

Today’s result is the last step in finalising this major investigation and should serve as a crucial reminder to landowners that they have a responsibility to know and follow all their legal obligations to protect wildlife welfare on their properties.

We appreciate there has been considerable interest in this case and acknowledge that this result would not have been possible without assistance from the community, volunteers and other wildlife authorities.

Any act of animal cruelty is completely unacceptable, and we urge anyone with information that could help the Conservation Regulator investigate and prosecute wildlife crime to report it to Crime Stoppers Victoria.

Kate GavensChief Conservation Regulator

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