Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott and Russian President Vladimir Putin with koalas G20 Australia

Australia has killed nearly 700 koalas - but Russia hopes the 'Putin koala' was spared

The cull was because the animals were in poor health, the local government said.

RUSSIA HOPES THAT a koala cuddled by President Vladimir Putin at a G20 summit was alive and well after Australia said it had killed off nearly 700 of the animals.

Putin joined other world leaders in posing for photographs with the much-loved Australian marsupial at the talks in November, a lighthearted moment in a meeting overshadowed by Russia’s confrontation with the West over Ukraine.

“We are hoping that the animals the G20 leaders were photographed with during a summit in Brisbane were not among those that were euthanised,” the Russian embassy in Australia said on Facebook.

Veterinarians have put down 686 koalas suffering from starvation due to overpopulation in southeastern Australia, sparking claims of mismanagement.

Victoria state environment minister Lisa Neville said the koalas were euthanised around Cape Otway near the scenic tourist drawcard the Great Ocean Road, in 2013 and 2014, with a caravan site owner saying the whole area “smelt like death” before they were put down.

She said they were in poor health and were humanely killed by veterinarians in consultation with koala experts and animal welfare personnel.

The minister said she was seeking expert advice on how to manage the issue and wanted to be open with the community on the process, but has not ruled out further similar operations.

“Experience suggests that moving these koalas does not work and that can in fact cause even greater suffering,” she told the Australian Broadcasting Corporation.

We need to have a look at a koala management strategy to see whether we can reduce that population growth which continues at a very fast pace.”

Australia Brisbane International Tennis Tennis player Maria Sharapova also holding a koala AP / Press Association Images AP / Press Association Images / Press Association Images

‘Shocking’ mismanagement

But the Australian Koala Foundation, which estimates there are now less than 100,000 of the unique animals in the wild, blamed long-term mismanagement for the deaths at Cape Otway.

“What they have done is shocking,” said chief executive Deborah Tabart.

Why did they let it happen in the first place? I think the government should hang its head in shame.”

Australia Koala AP / Press Association Images AP / Press Association Images / Press Association Images

Putin pic goes viral

Last year, pictures of Putin hugging a koala from a local wildlife park went viral online, unleashing ridicule of the strongman.

One wit joked that the koala would be awarded a top government post and become part of the “first koalition government” under Putin.

The Russian leader got a frosty reception in Brisbane and left the summit early under the pretext that he needed to get some sleep.

The tough-guy leader is known for his love of the outdoors and has often been pictured with animals, from fluffy puppies to cows, dolphins and even a tiger cub, as shown in a Tumblr blog dedicated to images of Putin and animals.

Note: We realise they’re not actually called koala bears

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