The Australian Koala Foundation reports the koala population in the wild has dropped from 100,000 to fewer than 43,000 during the past six years. The cuddly animals face many serious threats to the species, but Koala AIDS may put them on the brink of extinction.
Koala Immune Deficiency Syndrome was identified by Dr. Jon Hanger, head veterinary scientist for the Australia Zoo Wildlife Hospital. He told CNN it is just as severe as AIDS in humans, but is attacking koalas faster. “It’s knocking off a large proportion of koalas that come into this hospital and that means a large number in the bush are dying from it too,” said Dr. Hanger.
The disease is spread by koala’s that come into contact with each other. Hanger believes that most of the animals are carriers for the Koala AIDS, but only some are predisposed to coming down with the illness.
Dr. Hanger said, “There is no vaccine available now and may never be, but what it’s saying to us is that we need to be very careful about the way we manage the population. We have to stop destroying habitat and fragmenting it and we’ve got to address all the causes of death.”
Koalas face many dangers that threaten the species. They are losing their homes in the eucalyptus forests, being injured by cars and animals moving into their areas and dying from sexually transmitted diseases. The marsupials seem to be particularly susceptible to Chlamydia. The disease affects their eyesight, urinary tract and leaves them infertile. It also causes a slow, painful death.
The Wildlife Hospital treats nearly 700 koala patients each year. Most would die in the wild without their help. And once they have recuperated, the animals are returned to the area where they were found.
According to Discovery News, two professors from the Queensland University of Technology are working on a vaccine for Koala Chlamydia. Peter Timms and Ken Beagley estimate that, “As many as 25-50 percent of koalas coming into care in both Queensland and New South Wales are showing clinical signs of the disease and it seems to be getting worse.”
They will soon be starting a trial of their vaccine on sick and injured animals.
The Australian Koala Foundation is very disappointed in the government’s attitude toward the problem. Officials refuse to give the Koala’s protection under the law.
“Extinction is inevitable in some areas” reported Hanger. “I certainly hope we don’t see it across Australia. But if we don’t take the decline seriously and pick up on the warning signs now it’s certainly a risk.”