Contractor hit with $79k fine for destroying Victorian koala habitat

The koala population was left hungry and homeless when the blue gum forest was cleared.

The koala population was left hungry and homeless when the blue gum forest was cleared. Photo: AAP

A magistrate says the pain and suffering caused to koalas by a contractor most likely wasn’t deliberate or sadistic, but still warrants a hefty punishment.

The forestry and earthmoving business was fined $79,000 after bulldozing a former blue gum plantation on a Cape Bridgewater property in south-west Victoria between 2019 and 2020.

Forest and Wildlife Officers responded to reports of injured and starving koalas at the property soon after after the work was done, prompting an investigation by the state’s Conservation Regulator.

The contractor pleaded guilty to five animal cruelty charges, including one of aggravated cruelty, at Warrnambool Magistrates’ Court on Friday, the regulator said in a statement.

The owner of the property is still facing 126 charges relating to cruelty to animals, including 18 aggravated charges for causing fatal injuries to koalas. His case remains before the Geelong Magistrates’ Court.

‘Should serve as a reminder’

Magistrate Lethbridge said while “not deliberately cruel or sadistic”, the contractor’s actions caused “a great deal of harm to scores of koalas”.

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

Chief Conservation Regulator Kate Gavens hopes the outcome will serve as a warning to other businesses.

“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,” she said.

“The Conservation Regulator takes wildlife crime extremely seriously and will investigate and take action against anyone suspected of animal cruelty.”


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