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Koalas are in trouble – chlamydia and trauma are major threats to their population

Posted November 29, 2019

Koala is one of the best symbols of Australia’s wildlife. These small fluffy herbivorous marsupial animals live in the east and southeast part of the continent. Tourists love seeing them, especially if it is an unexpected meeting. However, scientists say that koalas are suffering from trauma and diseases.

Koalas in the wild are suffering from diseases, bush fires, human activity, heat waves and other problems. Image credit: Andrea via Wikimedia (CC BY-SA 2.0)

Scientists from the University of Queensland decided to see how koalas are doing in South East Queensland. It is a well-known problem that these animals that are only native to Australia are not doing too well. They are suffering from several major problems, including human activity, bushfires and diseases. Scientists wanted to see what is the relationship between disease and mortality, so they surveyed more than 500 dead koalas found in the South East Queensland region.

Researchers found that koalas often are affected by more than one medical condition. Of course, one of the biggest problems is chlamydia, which continues to drive down the population of koalas. Then there are traumas, typically caused by bushfires or violent run-ins with humans. Those include clashes with cars on the road, attacks by domestic dogs, injuries caused by farming equipment and so on.

In fact, trauma is the leading cause of death for healthy koalas. It is terrible to think that most koalas in this research who died from an injury, were otherwise healthy. Most traumas happen to koalas that live close to urban areas. And then there is the issue of habitat reduction, which is a result of deforestation, caused by simple harvesting of lumber, and bushfires. With climate change threatening to cause more and more extreme weather events, it is worth thinking about how it is going to affect koala population.

But, of course, chlamydia remains the main sickness of koalas. Although chlamydia affects both male and female koalas, female ones are more likely to have chlamydia in their reproductive system. And that’s just bad news for koala population in general. Joerg Henning, author of the study, said: “The chlamydia in the females causes permanent infertility, not only debilitating that female but stopping her having joeys and rebuilding the population. Our study showed that these koalas with Chlamydia were often very skinny, making them hard to rehabilitate and release back into the wild”.

How can these issue be solved? Well, conservation efforts need more energy and resources. Koalas need help and safe places, where they can stay away from humans. Also, chlamydia in koalas needs to be researched more to develop some sort of a solution that could be applied in the wild. All in all, this study provides scientists with knowledge, which could in turn help protecting the koalas.


Source: University of Queensland

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