Nearly 700 koalas in Australia's Cape Otway region were culled by authorities who blamed overpopulation for the animals' starvation, an official said Wednesday. Victoria's Environment Minister Lisa Neville reportedly said the animals were captured and sedated before being killed in the state’s southwest.
Koalas are reportedly listed as vulnerable in the eastern states of Queensland and New South Wales but parts of Victoria and South Australia have witnessed an overpopulation of the animals. Neville reportedly said that the koalas were euthanized humanely after consultation with experts and animal welfare officials. According to the National Koala Conservation and Management Strategy, the culling of koalas is only legal when the animals are severely unwell and are suffering from pain.
"The intervention was necessary to prevent suffering of koalas because they weren't able to find enough food," Neville said in a statement, according to Agence France-Presse. "Population densities were reaching up to 20 koalas per hectare at Cape Otway."
The minister said she was seeking expert advice on how to manage the issue and promised an open and transparent agenda.
“This is a challenging and complex issue that we need to address humanely and effectively,” she told the Australian Broadcasting Corporation. “We will be guided by the advice of experts in the field to assess the best options to prevent suffering and we will be open and transparent with the community whilst doing so.”
Neville also reportedly spoke about implementing a koala management strategy that could reduce the marsupial's population growth.
The Australian Koala Foundation reportedly blamed long-term mismanagement for the animals' deaths, and estimated that there are now fewer than 100,000 of the animals in the wild.