Battle lines drawn over death of Willie the koala at Pretoria zoo

2019-07-18 14:37
Koala. (File)

Koala. (File)

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The death of Willie the koala bear at the National Zoological Gardens (NZG) in Pretoria is the result of a long strike, a union has claimed.

"The person who was taking care of the koala bear was on strike," National Trade Union Congress organiser Vusi Msiza told News24.

The strike has been ongoing for a month, Msiza added.

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The strike concerns discrepancies in salary and benefits between employees, following the incorporation of the zoo into the South African National Biodiversity Institute (Sanbi).

However, Sanbi disputed that strike action contributed to Willie's death.

"'Willie the koala died on Saturday while under care of our veterinarians in our hospital. The koala was born at the NZG. The death of the koala at the National Zoological Garden is believed to have been caused by a chronic liver condition but we are still awaiting histopath reports from our veterinary department," Sanbi acting managing director Craig Allenby told News24.

"The koala was 13 and a half years old," he added.

Life span

According to the Australian Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation's Wildlife Research journal, the animals usually live for about 12 years in the wild.

The oldest one in captivity lived for 22 years, recorded by Richard Weigl in Longevity of Mammals in Captivity; from the Living Collections of the World, 2005.

"Care of our animals is treated very seriously and there are currently one conservator, one animal attendant and a student present in that section; assistance is available from other sections when need be. There is no link between the death of the koala and the striking National Trade Union Congress," said Allenby.

He argued that the strike did not have a major impact on operations at the NZG.

"The welfare of our animals is of critical and ongoing importance to us. The majority of the NZG's staff members are not on strike. Our veterinarians do daily checks on all the animals to ensure that the welfare of our animals has not been compromised by the strike."

Msiza disagrees: "The employer just cares about the money, they don't care about the animals."

According to the International Union for Conservation of Nature, koalas (Phascolarctos cinereus) are described as vulnerable on its Red List. The animals are native to eastern Australia and is a decreasing population of between 100 000 to 500 000 mature individuals.

The Australian government has protected the koalas (which are marsupials, not bears) under national environment law because of the number of threats they face.

"Koalas in some regions face increasing threats from urban expansion, disease, habitat loss, vehicle strike, and predation by dogs, and from their susceptibility to drought and climate change," the Department of Environment and Energy said in a statement.

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