$79,000 fine for contractor guilty of koala cruelty at Cape Bridgewater

A forestry and earthmoving business has been convicted and fined $79,000 after admitting to causing the pain, suffering, and/or death of dozens of koalas when they bulldozed a significant amount of habitat at a Cape Bridgewater property between 2019 and 2020.

Thursday, 16 November 2023 at 2:17 am
A large koala is perched between the branches of a gum tree in a forest

The contractor pleaded guilty to 5 animal cruelty charges, including one of aggravated cruelty, under the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act 1986 at Warrnambool Magistrates’ Court today.

The contractor was 1 of 2 businesses hired to clear vegetation from the former blue gum plantation between November 2019 and January 2020, but they were found to be responsible for the majority of the clearing and harm done to the koalas.

During sentencing, His Honour Magistrate Lethbridge said while “not deliberately cruel or sadistic”, the business’ actions caused “a great deal of harm to scores of koalas” and “merits significant punishment”.

“Contractors must understand their obligations. These obligations which go well beyond simply doing what they are told to do by the party contracting them,” His Honour said.

In December 2022, a separate contractor was fined $20,000 after pleading guilty to 1 cruelty offence under the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act 1986 for the role they played in disturbing the koala population.

Both court outcomes follow a thorough investigation by the Conservation Regulator, after Forest and Wildlife Officers responded to reports of injured and starving koalas at the Cape Bridgewater property in February 2020.

The owner of the Cape Bridgewater property faces 126 charges under the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act 1986 and the Wildlife Act 1975, including 18 aggravated cruelty charges for causing fatal injuries to koalas. His case is currently before the Geelong Magistrates’ Court.

The community can report any information about wildlife crime to Crime Stoppers Victoria on 1800 333 000

Today’s result is a significant outcome and should serve as a reminder to all contracting businesses that they are responsible for understanding and complying with their legal obligations to ensure wildlife welfare while undertaking contracted works.

The Conservation Regulator takes wildlife crime extremely seriously and will investigate and take action against anyone suspected of animal cruelty. We rely on public assistance and encourage anyone with information about wildlife crime to report it to Crime Stoppers Victoria.

Kate GavensChief Conservation Regulator