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Koalas face carnage at timber plantations in SE Australia: report.

SYDNEY, July 23 Kyodo

Koalas are being killed and injured in large numbers at eucalyptus timber plantations across southeast Australia that produce woodchips for export to countries like Japan and China, according to the Australian Broadcasting Corp.

The report, which aired Monday night, said vast eucalyptus timber plantations have emerged across southeast Australia, and koalas, which feed primarily on eucalyptus leaves, have colonized them, only to be wiped out during the logging process.

ABC said workers with logging and timber companies, distressed at what they witnessed, blew the whistle on the problem -- but they did so anonymously for fear of losing their jobs.

"It was a daily thing, sometimes a couple every hour, sometimes just one a day," one worker told ABC's 7.30 program. "You normally come across them on the ground already dead or pretty badly injured."

"This is a national and international icon that we are treating with so much disrespect and disdain," said Stephen Phillips, a member of the Federal Government's Koala Abundance Working Group. "It's probably one of the most iconic mammals in the world next to the panda."

Phillips stressed the need for "people on the ground to make sure that animals aren't in trees that are pulled down and pulled through shedders."

At one blue gum (Eucalyptus globulus) plantation in Victoria run by the American-owned Australian Bluegum Plantations, ABC reported, there are believed to be some 8,000 koalas within a 20-kilometer radius, but the proprietor claims it has seen no deaths or injuries.

"It's garbage. We know it's happening. We've had animals from their plantations," said Tracey Wilson, a wildlife rescue volunteer from Koroit in Victoria. "You'd only get a call for an injured koala if one of the guys on site didn't think it was right."

"Broken limbs, impact wounds, broken backs, severed arm. Dead mothers with joeys that are still alive, trying to survive," she said. "It's a huge issue. That's why Australians should care. There's going to be a lot of koalas killed."

ABC said the company declined to be interviewed for the program.

Volunteer Jill Rowley from Mt. Gambier in South Australia, who helps injured koalas, said logging companies fear that "if this gets too public...the industry will be brought to a standstill."

"We're talking money. They make big money out of this," she said.

ABC said Australian Bluegum Plantations and South West Fibre, a log processing and woodchip exporting joint venture in Victoria that is partly owned by a subsidiary of Japan's Mitsui & Co., plan to export some 1.2 million tons of blue gum logs and woodchips a year to Japan and China.

"Both the Chinese and Japanese public have a great affection for the koala, but know nothing of the dark secret that taints their paper production," the program's reporter said.

Reacting to the report Tuesday, Deborah Tabart of the Australian Koala Foundation, which seeks to have the koala federally listed as vulnerable and its habitat protected by law, blasted the killing and injuring of the marsupials by bulldozers at Victorian eucalyptus plantations as "absolutely senseless and callous."

On her website, Tabart said the AKF had in the past made a series of recommendations to the blue gum industry "because we foreshadowed this would happen," but its advice was ignored.

One such recommendation was to set up biodiversity shelters for koalas to retreat to during harvesting, "which would still be traumatic for koalas, but better than having a scorched earth policy with the koalas having nowhere to go."

Tabart said the Victorian government has not allowed the koala to be protected federally because the timber and logging industry "wields a great deal of power" in the state.

Last year, the federal government did list the koala as vulnerable, but only in New South Wales, Queensland and the Australian Capital Territory.

"I want a new piece of (federal) legislation that says basically this is an important icon, and if you can't find respect for koalas that bring $2.5 billion of tourism to your shores, then we might as well give up on the environment," she told ABC.
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Publication:Asian Economic News
Geographic Code:9JAPA
Date:Jul 29, 2013
Words:683
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