Last week I came across this article about a koala cull in Cape Otway, in Victoria. According to the article, almost 700 koalas were culled during 2013 and 2014, in a bid to deal with over-population in the region. ‘Interesting’, I thought. ‘I wonder what the public response will be?’
Well, in short, there has been very little public response in the intervening days. One of the only* online news article with comments appeared in the Geelong Advertiser. Of the 11 comments that were left there last week, only one person mentioned the ‘iconic’ status of the koalas. In fact there was no mention of any sort of cultural attachment to koalas in any of the news articles, until the International Fund for Animal Welfare commented on the issue, referring to the koala as ‘our national icon’ .
I find this particularly interesting, given the public outcry whenever the possibility of a brumby cull is mentioned, particularly in NSW and Victoria. These debates are constantly peppered with references to the brumby’s iconic status, and its important place in our national heritage. And yet the koala, an animal native to the east coast of Australia, is culled, despite being listed as vulnerable in NSW, the ACT and Queensland, and no one seems to care.
My issue is not that the cull happened. By all accounts it was necessary from a welfare point of view, with the koalas descended from a previously relocated population, and further relocation was deemed unfeasible . Nor was it carried out in a brutal fashion. The animals were reportedly sedated before being euthanised , which is the same method in which the family pet would be put down by a vet, certainly not cruel.
The issue I have is that the over-population and subsequent culling of koalas in a small region doesn’t raise a tenth of the ire as the proposed culling of brumbies, which are an introduced species. Yet brumbies are in a very similar situation to the Otway koalas, suffering from over-population in the Snowy Mountains region, and, as reported last spring, apparently starving. Perhaps this is because conservationists and brumby advocates continue to dispute the actual number of brumbies? Well, according to The Australian Koala Foundation, the same goes for the Cape Otway koalas . So maybe the lack of outcry is because the koalas were euthanised, rather than shot? Well, in 2008 there was no complaint made at the shooting and complete eradication of rabbits in Sydney’s Centennial Park, another ‘secret’ operation.
What emerges here is that the discourse around brumby management is different to that of any other animal, whether native or feral. The constant reference to the brumby’s iconic status, and it’s national heritage, have seemingly elevated it from the realm of ‘animal’, and conferred upon it an almost untouchable symbolic status. What remains to be seen is how the issue will play out, and what the ecological cost will be.
*The Australian also did a piece on this topic, with comments, however this cannot be accessed by everyone, as it pops up as ‘subscriber only content’. Suffice to say debate in the Comments field was typified by anti-‘Greenie’ sentiment. Of the 32 comments posted as of today, no mention was made of national heritage or iconic status.
 ‘Koala Cull Highlights a Bigger Problem’, International Fund for Animal Welfare web page (Australia) 5 March 2015, accessed 11 March 2015 http://www.ifaw.org/australia/news/koala-cull-highlights-bigger-problem
 ‘Hundreds of starving Cape Otway Koalas killed in ‘secret culls’,’ The Age website, 4 March 2015, accessed 11 march 2015 http://www.theage.com.au/victoria/hundreds-of-starving-cape-otway-koalas-killed-in-secret-culls-20150304-13un49.html
 ‘Starving koalas secretly culled at Cape Otway, ‘overpopulation issues’ blamed for ill health,’ ABC website, 4 March 2015, accessed 4 March 2015 http://www.abc.net.au/news/2015-03-04/starving-koalas-secretly-culled-at-cape-otway/6278768
 ‘Almost 700 Victorian koalas killed in secret cull,’ ABC News website, 4 March 2015, accessed 11 March 2015 http://www.abc.net.au/news/2015-03-04/almost-700-victorian-koalas-killed-in-secret-cull/6280158