Gunditjmara Traditional Owners say they have been left feeling upset and concerned following the news of a koala 'massacre' on their country, located in south-west Victoria.
It is estimated that hundreds of koalas have perished following the logging of a private blue gum plantation near Cape Bridgewater, just outside of Portland in Victoria's south west.
Many koalas appear to have been crushed to death, starved, or left severely injured as a result of the clearing.
“Everyone’s upset about it, everyone’s very vigil about it as well. Knowing that the wildlife rescue team is out there is a good thing,” Gunditjmara man and CEO of Gunditj Mirring, Damein Bell told NITV News.
"It’s an important animal for us. Koalas are an indicator of bush health, they’re part of the bush... We’ve got to make sure that they’re all in good health because they’re part of Country."
Gunditjmara Country has been home to a large population of koalas after they were brought to the south-west of Victoria from French Island and Raymond Island following Black Friday bushfires that tore through the state in 1939.
Wildlife Victoria spokesperson Megan Davidson told NITV News that as of Monday morning, 62 animals have been rescued alive, but there are a large number that will need to be euthanised because of their injuries.
It is estimated that up to 80 animals still need to be rescued, including many orphans. It is unknown exactly how many have perished, with many buried under piles of logs, making it difficult to obtain a precise figure.
“Bulldozing animals like they’re rubbish... I think this country has a real problem with how we view our Indigenous animals," Ms Davidson said.
"I just don’t think we value them, I think it’s a disgrace, and I think there’s got to be some shift in our culture."
The surviving koalas will be taken to Mosswood Animal Shelter to be rehabilitated and relocated back into the wild.
The Victorian State Government has launched a major investigation into the chain of events, with the Department of Environment Land, Water and Planning (DELWP) now on site.
On Monday morning, Environment Minister Lily D'Ambrosio told media she was angry and heartbroken over the news.
"We will do everything possible to bring the people who are responsible for this to account, and throw every penalty that is available to us at them. This can never be repeated again," Ms D'Ambrosio said.
She said that "no stone will be left unturned" in the investigation, and that those responsible could be prosecuted under the Victorian Wildlife Act, which has significant penalties ranging from fines to imprisonment.
"We also have available to us legislation of the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act and the Conservation Regulator and her team are authorised personnel under that legislation to also potentially bring cruelty charges against those responsible," Ms D'Ambrosio said.
Until the site and situation has been assessed by DELWP, the Gunditj Mirring Traditional Owner Aboriginal Corporation said they will hold off on taking action.
"We know that industry has it’s standards in how it manages koalas in its plantations, especially around harvesting times, but with this particular property we don’t have a lot of information at the moment so we’re awaiting information from DELWP," Mr Bell said.