THE owner of a Cape Bridgewater property and two companies have been charged with 253 animal cruelty offences for their alleged involvement in clearing the property in Victoria’s South West which disturbed more than 200 koalas including at least 70 which were injured and killed or had to be euthanised.
The landowner 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.
A forest and earthmoving business is facing the same 126 charges.
The man and business are accused of clearing habitat which wounded and caused unreasonable pain or suffering to dozens of koalas.
They are also charged with destroying koalas which are a protected species.
A separate contracting business has also been charged with one cruelty offence under the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act 1986 for disturbing the koala population.
The charges follow a complex 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 last year.
A crime scene was established and a triage centre set up to assess the koalas.
Sadly, 21 koalas were found dead on site and 49 koalas had to be euthanised.
It is alleged that following assessment of the deceased and euthanised animals, 70 koalas were identified as experiencing, or likely to experience, pain or suffering in the form of starvation and/or dehydration, and 25 of those koalas had also sustained fractures.
More than 120 koalas were released directly from the incident site back into the wild, with more than 70 animals taken into care and of those around 60 were released from care into the wild.
The maximum penalty for one charge of aggravated animal cruelty leading to death is $218,088 for a business, and $90,870 or two years imprisonment for an individual.
The maximum penalty for one charge of animal cruelty is $109,044 for a business, and $45,435 or 12 months jail for an individual.
The maximum penalty for one charge of illegally hunting, taking or destroying protected wildlife is $9,087 and/or six months imprisonment.
An additional fine of up to $908 per head of wildlife may also apply.
The matter is listed for the Portland Magistrates Court on February 22.
Chief Conservation Regulator, Kate Gavens said: “We understand the community’s concerns about this case and we have ensured a thorough investigation which led to these charges.
“Our investigation included gathering a large volume of evidence from the crime scene, as well as mobile devices and witness statements.
“Techniques such as forensic radiography and pathology were undertaken on all deceased animals discovered on the property to assist in determining when and how the animals died.
“Animal cruelty and destruction of protected wildlife are serious offences and the Conservation Regulator is continuing its focus on detecting and investigating these crimes.”
The Conservation Regulator oversees the regulation of wildlife, forests and public land in Victoria.