News broke yesterday that secret koala culls are being carried out near Victoria's Great Ocean Road. Not surprisingly, the public as a whole was pretty bummed to learn almost 700 of the adorable animals have been put down over the last two years.
But koala advocates are defending the cull, and scolding those who criticize it—if officials hadn't killed the cute critters, the consequences for the koala population would have been dire.
"I was extremely pleased to see the government take action because I'd got fed up with watching animals starve to death," said Dr. Desley Whisson, a koala expert from Deakin University who assisted with the cull , said, adding that the operation was a response to a population spike caused by a lack of bushfires.
The koalas euthanized were starving due to that overpopulation, with many estimated as being days away from death. Population density in the area was up to 11 per hectare (2.5 acres), which is 11 times the sustainable rate of one per hectare. The problem wasn't that the animals were running out of food—they're surrounded by native bush—but rather that they had become fixated on their food source and failed to move on when they exhausted it. "The fact that the numbers continue to grow unchecked is really the problem," Whisson said.
She also takes issue with reports the cull was carried out in secret. A press release wasn't issued because of concern—largely from conservationists—that the resulting publicity would have stopped any action taking place. ("Let's kill some koalas!" is almost never a popular proposition.) But the euthanizations were performed publicly, and Whisson said some tourists were even present.
The growth in population is largely a result of our removal of fire from their habitats. Huge efforts are made each year to protect and rehabilitate animals affected by bushfire, but the seasonal occurrence is central in controlling the population.
The lack of bushfires leaves just two options: animals can be left to starve or euthanized by injection. Whisson also explained that koalas are difficult to relocate because they tend to specialize in certain tree species. According to her, moving them to an area of different trees "will almost certainly result in the death of the relocated animal," and zoos aren't an option since they don't have room for all the koalas, which normally don't do well in captivity.
"It was the kindest thing to do to those animals," Whisson said.
Follow Wendy on Twitter.