Save Koalas from Possible Extinction!

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Koalas in Australia suffer from a severe chlamydia epidemic. Take action!


Quite possibly one of the cutest animals in existence, the Australian koala is facing serious health dangers.

Even before bushfires began driving this species dangerously close to extinction, experts estimated that there were only about 329,000 koalas in Australia, which represents an average of a 24 percent decline in populations over the past three generations.

Koalas are today threatened by land development, food degradation, eucalyptus tree loss, drought, dog attacks, and chlamydia1. Chlamydia flare ups can be especially extreme in koalas, leading to severe inflammation, massive cysts and scarring of the reproductive tract. In the worst cases, the animals cannot urinate without great pain2.

Of the 1,000 individuals arriving annually in New South Wales and Queensland wildlife hospitals, 40% have untreatable late-stage chlamydia and cannot be rehabilitated3.

Researchers tracking the population of koalas on the Koala Coast south of Brisbane have found that 52% of the koalas observed showed chlamydia-like symptoms. About 61% of koalas in Victoria's South Gippsland region are also carrying the disease4.

Though chlamydia doesn't directly kill koalas, it renders them infertile means koalas could become extinct in as little as a few decades.

There is a vaccine, but the cure can be as deadly as the disease. Antibiotics extinguish the koala's crucial gut flora that help them subsist on eucalyptus, leaving a koala unable to gain nutrients from its food5.

In a 2019 trial, one of five koalas treated with antibiotics later had to be euthanized due to gastrointestinal complications, resulting in muscle wasting and dehydration5. Veterinarians have been giving antibiotic-treated koalas fecal transplants in the hopes of restoring their microbiota.

Handling infected wild koalas can stress them on top of their poor health. Koalas also must increasingly cope with an unreliable natural environment, such as drought brought on by climate change, and the building of highways, which forces them out of trees and into the way of cars and predators6.

In all, it's becoming harder for koalas to exist.

Koalas are now considered vulnerable to extinction just a step above endangered with hundreds of thousands killed in fire-devastated zones of northern New South Wales7. Making matters worse, about 40% of Australian female koalas are now infertile.

We must intervene if we are to reverse the pattern that could lead these cuddly creatures to extinction.

Sign the petition asking Australia's Federal Environment Minister to elevate koalas to endangered status and ensure they receive the resources necessary to avert this catastrophe.

More on this issue:

  1. Christine Adams-Hosking, Marissa F. McBride, Greg Baxter, Mark Burgman, Deidre de Villiers, Rodney Kavanagh, Ivan Lawler, Daniel Lunney, Alistair Melzer, Peter Menkhorst, Robyn Molsher, Ben D. Moore, David Phalen, Jonathan R. Rhodes, Charles Todd, Desley Whisson, Clive A. McAlpine, Biodiversity Research (05 January 2016), "Use of expert knowledge to elicit population trends for the koala (Phascolarctos cinereus)."
  2. Natasha Daly, National Geographic (25 November 2019), "No, koalas aren't 'functionally extinct' yet."
  3. Rachel E. Gross, The New York Times (13 July 2020), "How Koalas With an S.T.D. Could Help Humanity."
  4. Samuel Phillips, Bonnie L. Quigley, Ammar Aziz, Wendy Bergen, Rosemary Booth, Michael Pyne, Peter Timms (15 August 2019), "Antibiotic treatment of Chlamydia-induced cystitis in the koala is linked to expression of key inflammatory genes in reactive oxygen pathways."
  5. Faye Wedrowicz, Jennifer Mosse, Wendy Wright, Fiona E. Hogan, Wildlife Research (11 July 2018), "Using non-invasive sampling methods to determine the prevalence and distribution of Chlamydia pecorum and koala retrovirus in a remnant koala population with conservation importance."
  6. Elfy Scott, BuzzFeedNews (10 July 2018), "Here's Everything We Know About Koalas And Their Big Chlamydia Problem."
  7. Liz Langley, National Geographic (14 April 2018), "As Koalas Suffer From Chlamydia, A New Clue For Treatment."
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The Petition:

To Australia's Federal Environment Minister,

I am writing to express my concern over the current koala situation in Australia. I've learned that chlamydia is taking a huge toll on the koala population and rendering them infertile. Though chlamydia causes a range of health problems for these adorable animals, infertility is the most ominous as it threatens to extinguish the entire koala population.

Though there are treatment options, once chlamydia enters a koala's urinary tract, the animal is most often rendered infertile. With a vaccine in development, now is the time to grant the animal greater federal protection under the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 (EPBC Act), providing the species with a chance of recovery.

This national emblem deserves national protection, rather than patchwork solutions offered at state and local levels that provide inadequate coverage.

Sincerely,

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Updates:

According to the BBC, infection rates of koalas in some regions of Australia have reached as high as 90%. But not all the news is bad - chlamydia is treatable with antibiotics while volunteers help rehabilitate the sick. With a vaccine nearing development, now is the time to act and bring the koala back from the brink of extinction.
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