Mercy killing is a difficult concept to stomach, especially when the animals are as adorable as koalas. Unfortunately, nearly 700 koalas were killed by authorities in Australia after they were found to be in extremely poor health due to starvation. Rampant overpopulation has plagued the koala population for years, and the government is facing accusations of poor management of the threatened species.

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So, why are the koalas starving? In southeastern Australia, the koala population has exploded in recent years, leading to an overwhelming increase in competition for food and other resources. Koalas eat (and get their hydration from) eucalyptus trees, and there quite simply is just not enough food to sustain the population.

In 2013 and 2014, 686 koalas were euthanized near the scenic tourist spot of Great Ocean Road, according to Victoria state Environment Minister Lisa Neville. Veterinarians, in cooperation with koala experts and animal welfare personnel, carried out the procedures, in an attempt to preserve the remainder of the healthy koala population in the area. Authorities decided to intervene once they learned how many koalas were starving, feeling it was better to proactively euthanize them rather than allow them to starve to death slowly and in massive numbers.

Related: Australia’s koalas listed as threatened species due to deforestation and climate change

This mass killing measure was not a population control attempt, but rather a method for putting suffering koalas out of their misery. Officials have yet to determine the best course of action for managing the ever-growing population of koalas, but they’re working on it.

Critics argue that Australian authorities could have prevented these unfortunate killings by better managing the koala population in the first place. The Australian Koala Foundation chief executive Deborah Tabart feels the killings are “shocking.” With an estimated 100,000 or fewer of the unique fuzzy animals left in the wild,

Via Discovery

Images via Shutterstock (1, 2)