Authorities have confirmed 136 dead wedge-tailed eagles have been found under suspicious circumstances in Victoria, in what could be the worst illegal bird cull the state has ever seen.
And wildlife officers suspect more dead animals may still be found in East Gippsland, in the state’s east.
It comes after the ABC reported last week hundreds of dead wedge-tailed eagles were found after suspected poisoning on a Tubbut farm, near the New South Wales border.
Victoria’s Department of Environment, Land, Water and Planning (DELWP) said another four protected species were also found dead, including two ravens, a kookaburra and a reptile.
Given the number of dead native animals discovered so far, the offender is facing possible jail time or about $115,000 in fines.
DELWP’s Iain Bruce said the birds were found after staff searched properties in East Gippsland and, on the evidence so far, it could be the worst mass killing of the eagle they have ever seen in Victoria.
“It’s clearly intentional,” he said.
“This is the biggest case of wedge-tailed eagle deaths we have ever seen — by far the biggest.
“I spoke with a recently-retired (department) officer that was in charge of this district, and he said this was at a whole new level.
“We have never seen anything like this.”
Wedge-tailed eagles are Australia’s biggest bird of prey.
Farmers have told the ABC they are known to attack and kill newborn lambs.
Birds hidden in bush and scrub
Mr Bruce said no charges had been laid.
“Someone has come forward and he is helping us with our inquiries,” he said.
“I’d suggest with the information we have, there’s a lot of leads and new information. The message to anyone involved with this activity is, we will find you.”
Mr Bruce said the dead animals were hidden in bushland and scrub on properties that covered about 2000 hectares.
“With no single point of disposal … we believe that the numbers may be higher than what have been seized,” he said.
“This is a significant statewide investigation, involving more than 30 staff, using a variety of investigative tools and techniques.
“We are throwing everything at this … it’s our highest priority.”
Mr Bruce said wedge-tailed eagles were protected under the Wildlife Act, and deliberately killing the birds carried a maximum penalty of $7,928.50, and up to six months’ imprisonment, and an additional penalty of $792.85 for each bird destroyed.
He urged anyone with information to report it to Crime Stoppers.