Nearly 700 koalas have been killed in what local media agencies are calling a "secret culling" conducted by Victoria state government employees in Australia. Officials are defending the decision, saying that the koalas were so overpopulated and starving that they were "falling out of the trees," but critics are saying that it should have never gotten to that point in the first place.

Cullings are not exactly uncommon in Australia, or in many other parts of the world where the predator-prey balance may be disrupted by urbanization and habitat fragmentation. In the United States, for instance, many states have to host regular deer cullings. States will even pay professional hunters to control numbers in regions that have long lost their top predators but are also not considered "prime" hunting grounds by sportsmen.

In the case of koalas, they remain highly prevalent in Australia, with few natural predators - especially in bush regions that are fenced off from dingo and other large predator territory.

The culling reportedly took place between September 2013 and March 2014 in the gum woodlands Cape Otway, about 140 miles southwest of Melbourne, according to The Telegraph.

We are only learning of it now, it appears, because Victoria officials did not want activists interfering with the process, which involved capture, veterinary assent of the colony, and then euthanasia by lethal injection.

Many experts have since defended the cull, saying that the koalas were suffering in their small habitat even while boasting a colony of nearly 8,000. Nature could have also been left to take its course, but that would have resulted in rampant starvation and the spread of disease. (Scroll to read on...)

Newly instated Environment Minister Lisa Neville, who was not behind the past culling decision, was still quick to defend the action in an interview with The Australian.

"If we need to move forward with culling, yes, what I will ­assure Victorians of is that this is based on expert advice," she said.

However, Neville added that her office will be more "open and transparent" about culls in the future, and expressed apparent confusion as to why the past cull was done in secret.

Deborah Tabart thinks she has the answer. Outraged at the revelation of this cull, the Australian Koala Foundation (AKF) chief executive has been talking to reporters since Tuesday, accusing officials behind the Cape Otway cull of intentionally letting the koalas starve to justify the killings.

They could have provided food or relocated some of the animals, but instead opted to let the situation grow out of hand, she argued again and again through various media outlets.

There are other more humane koala management strategies that could have been taken as well. The Natural Resources Kangaroo Island, for instance, does regular surgical sterilization campaigns of colonies in the region, even while it works to restore local natural habitats in order to support larger populations.

The AKF also recently sent a letter to Greg Hunt, the Federal Environment Minister of Australia, asking him to reconsider a 2012 decision to not make the koala a protected species - despite the fact that they are a "national symbol" (it should be noted that the red kangaroo and emu actually hold the shield of the Australian federation on its standard).

"It seems [officials] have no idea how to deal with any koala issues in this state... to simply let them starve and then use this as an excuse to kill them is irresponsible and abhorrent to me and my family," an unnamed e-mailer was quoted as saying by the AKF.

"It goes without saying that the AKF will push this year for a Koala Protection Act," Tabart added. "Our legal team is ready and 80 politicians around the country are being asked to support tabling [koala protection in Parliament."

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