In Australia, scientists have started vaccinating koalas to protect the animals from a troubling chlamydia outbreak. The venereal disease, which is becoming more common due to climate change, could have fatal consequences for the iconic marsupial.
However, the vaccine testing should improve the species’ chances of survival.
Every year in Australia, many koalas die during bushfires, from drought and heatwaves or are eaten by other animals. There are therefore fewer and fewer wild specimens. In addition, the iconic marsupial is now also in trouble due to a large-scale chlamydia outbreak.
According to research from the University of Sydney, almost all koalas in several country provinces are sick. The sexually transmitted disease is passed on through sexual contact or from mother to young and can lead to urinary tract infections, blindness, infertility and death.
Climate change also plays an essential role in the spread of the disease. Australia is increasingly being hit by global warming, with bushfires, droughts, and heat waves threatening the koala’s habitat. According to experts, the effects of climate change are causing the animals chronic stress, weakening their immune systems and making them more likely to fall ill, often with fatal consequences.
To limit the number of sick animals, decrease the infection rate, and increase the species’ survival chances, scientists, therefore, started vaccinating hundreds of koalas last month. Once there is evidence that the vaccine is safe and effective, they hope it can be administered in animal hospitals across the country.
The koala population has been under pressure in Australia for a long time. The koala is classified as vulnerable on the IUCN Red List, which the International Union for Conservation of Nature uses to track which animal species are endangered. They estimate the number of wild koalas between 100,000 and 500,000. However, the Australian Koala Foundation (AKF) speaks of only 58,000.
The government made 2 million euros available to map the real population and to clear up the uncertainty. However, what is certain is that the number of wild koalas is decreasing. At the end of September, the AKF released new figures showing that copies have fallen by 30 percent in three years.