STD is ravaging populations of this endangered koala

A common sexually transmitted disease is proving a major cause of death among Australia’s cute koalas, researchers said this week.

Chlamydia, an infectious bacterial disease, renders many females infertile and causes bladder and eye problems that leave infected koalas vulnerable to predators, according to scientists at the University of Queensland, who analyzed death and disease data from Moggill Koala Hospital, Science Daily reported.

The strain of chlamydia infecting koalas is different from the one found in humans but is also spread through sex — although young koalas, or joeys, can get infected through suckling, the Express of the UK reported.

In general, the researchers found a dramatic increase in koala deaths from 1997 to 2013.

“Populations throughout ‘Koala Coast’ declined by about 80 percent over this period, so this iconic and famous species is in real trouble in our area,” said Dr. Rachel Allavena, a professor at the UQ School of Veterinary Science.

During the 16-year span, more than 5,000 otherwise healthy koalas were killed by cars. And of the more than 20,000 deaths studied, 50 percent involved koalas with at least one disease. The researchers did not specify the number of deaths attributable to chlamydia, but said the disease was the top reason koala’s were admitted to Moggill.

Wasting disease, poor teeth, starvation and animal attacks — especially by dogs — also contributed to the mounting koala losses.

Allavena, Dr. Joerg Henning and doctoral student Viviana Gonzalez-Astudillo determined that at least a quarter of the koalas struck by cars were otherwise in good health.

The researchers developed KoalaBASE, an online database about koalas treated at southeast Queensland facilities.

“KoalaBASE enables data input at multiple veterinary centers, and use of the data by multiple stakeholders such as veterinarians, government departments and researchers,” Henning said.

The UQ researchers hope their data — published in the journal Scientific Reports — will help government agencies, koala groups and medical centers better target resources for prevention and treatment.

The Department of Environment and Heritage Protection funded the $420,723 research project and provided the scientists with records of koala admissions at Moggill Koala Hospital, said Environment Minister Steven Miles.

“Based on this information and its own research with other koala care facilities, the research team has developed a database which, for the first time, provides accurate scientific information on the specific threats facing southeast Queensland koalas,” Miles said.

Koalas are listed as “vulnerable” on the global Red List of endangered species — suffering a 28 percent decline in numbers in Australia during late 1990s and the first decade of this century, the Express reported.

 

 

 

 

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