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‘Huge milestone’ in koala care


Chlamydia continues to kill and maim thousands of koalas – but there is good news.

  • News
  • Read Time: 5 mins

The health and survival of Australia’s koalas could depend on a single female called Anne Chovee who was recently released back into the bush, carrying a much-anticipated elixir in her bloodstream.

One of the leading killers of koalas is a debilitating bacterial infection called chlamydia.

Surveys have shown that some wild populations have a 100% infection rate. The disease frequently leads to blindness, severe bladder inflammation, infertility, and death.

Diseased koalas can be treated with antibiotics but that creates further problems for the marsupials, upsetting their gut microbes and making it difficult for them to digest the eucalyptus leaves that are the staple of their diet.

Vaccine development


During the past decade, scientists have been developing and trialling a vaccine that could prove to be the saviour of the endangered marsupial.

Three hundred koalas have now been vaccinated by researchers from the Queensland University of Technology (QUT) and Currumbin Wildlife Hospital.

In one study, scientists vaccinated and tracked about 30 koalas from an isolated colony in the Gold Coast hinterland with a high incidence of chlamydia.

Another study involved the vaccination of all animals treated and released from the Currumbin Wildlife Hospital. About 15% of these animals will return to the hospital for follow up treatment.

The question now is whether the vaccine will work outside of the laboratory and in the koalas’ natural bush habitat.

QUT’s Professor Ken Beagley, who developed the vaccine, is cautious, saying it is still an experimental product.

“We now have enough data to show the vaccine is safe and effective and so the next step is to go for registration,” he said.

“Once the vaccine is registered, it will be available more widely, and veterinary clinics and wildlife hospitals will be able to use it without delay.

“This technology will significantly increase our ability to vaccinate wild koalas to protect against chlamydial infections.”

Things are looking good at this stage.

Anne Chovee, the first wild koala from the Gold Coast hinterland to receive the vaccine has remained healthy since being released back into the habitat.

Not only is she chlamydia free, she has also produced a joey.

Researchers are confident the vaccine will continue to protect her and say that she will no longer need to be tracked or checked.

As one researcher said, the release of Anne Chovee into the wild is “a huge milestone”. Let’s hope there are many more.

Related reading: QUT, Great Walks, Wildlife Health Australia 

Photo by Pascal Borener

Author

John Austin

John Austin

Policy and Communications Officer

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