By Sharon Seltzer on Care2.com
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
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.”