A closeup of koala looking out from the tree

Koalas shouldn’t be collateral damage.

The deaths of hundreds of koalas whose homes were bulldozed have highlighted the biggest threat to the survival of the species…

Animals Australia

Animals Australia team

Last updated December 7, 2023

When bushfires sweep across Australia, their devastation dominates media headlines, and moves caring people the world over to help wildlife whose homes have been destroyed. The biggest threat to the survival of these animals, however, is something that happens every single day yet attracts far less media coverage…

At least, that was the case until the Cape Bridgewater disaster.

What happened at Cape Bridgewater?

What unfolded on the private property in Cape Bridgewater in Victoria’s southwest can only be described as an animal welfare disaster. Habitat that was home to hundreds of koalas was bulldozed in the midst of the 2020 bushfire crisis – to create pasture land in order to graze farmed animals.

Sadly, land being cleared to graze farmed animals (namely sheep and cattle) happens all the time. This case, however, catapulted the issue into the national spotlight. 2020’s bushfires had destroyed millions of hectares of land, and an estimated one billion animals had lost their lives. Photographs of firefighters and other caring individuals helping terrified, thirsty koalas captured attention and hearts the world over. And at the same time, a bulldozer tore through the home of over 200 koalas.

This image contains content which some may find confronting

A koala, killed during landclearing, on the ground.
While native animals across Australia were strugging through severe bushfires, the home of 200 koalas was bulldozed, injuring and killing many of them.
Image credit: Helen Oakley (Facebook)

To make matters worse, while their home was being torn down, the koalas also had nowhere to go. A tall fence had been installed around the site, preventing them from any attempts to flee the heavy machinery or seek shelter and food elsewhere.

Some koalas were killed instantly, their bodies later found trapped under heavy branches or strewn amongst piles of felled trees. Some suffered traumatic injuries including broken bones. Some were left orphaned, and others were found huddled together in the few remaining trees left on the property — hungry, thirsty, and utterly helpless. 70 were either killed at the time or found in such poor condition that the kindest option was for them to be euthanised.

While some were ‘lucky’ enough to be released back into the wild, how do they know where to relocate that is ‘safe’? And if it is safe, for how long?

The outcome demonstrates Australia has a long way to go when it comes to protecting native animals

Victoria’s environment Minister at the time, Lily D’Ambrosio, called the Cape Bridgewater situation a ‘crime’ and promised a thorough investigation. After almost two years, The Victorian Conservation Regulator issued more than 250 animal cruelty charges against the landowner and two companies involved.

In December 2022, one of the contractors involved pleaded guilty to just one animal cruelty charge related to the suffering caused to the koalas, and was fined $20,000. In November 2023, the earthmoving contractor pleaded guilty to five animal cruelty-related charges, and was fined $79K.

The owner of the Cape Bridgewater property faces 126 charges under the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act 1986 and the Wildlife Act 1975, including 18 aggravated cruelty charges for causing fatal injuries to koalas. His case is currently before the Geelong Magistrates’ Court.

Was justice served? If anything, this case has once again highlighted that our current laws and regulations need to be shaped and strengthened to better represent the safety and well-being of our fellow non-human animals.

The koalas who lived on this land weren’t just ‘disturbed’ – a term used on the government website to describe the incident. They weren’t even considered; and as a result, they suffered immensely at the hands of a system that currently prioritises production and profit over our coexistence with precious native flora and fauna.

This image contains content which some may find confronting

A koala carries her baby on her back, sitting on a branch with farmland in the background.
Animal agriculture is a key driver of land clearing – to graze farmed animals and grow their feed – leaving wildlife with less and less habitat.

Not just Cape Bridgewater: native habitat is being destroyed to make space for farmed animals Australia-wide

While this specific case was, and still is, incredibly distressing, it highlighted the very real and ongoing threat to wildlife whose habitats are becoming increasingly scarce every day – our current food system.

As the increasing demand for animal products leads to more farmed animals being bred and more land being required to graze them and grow their feed, native animals are being pushed out. Land clearing for other purposes, such as housing and infrastructure, while also detrimental to native habitats, accounts for far less land use when compared to that used for farmed animals.

As consumer demand is the key driver of industries that destroy natural habitats, the power lies with us to shift that demand to foods and products that are kinder to the planet and all the animals we share it with.

You can help koalas, starting today

While we push for long-term, meaningful change for animals at the government and industry levels, there are things we can do every day to help koalas and other wildlife.

Want to learn more? Join the evolution of kindness now, by ordering your free guide to more compassionate and sustainable living here.