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Koalas are facing extinction; what can be done to save them?

By Alain – on in News, Biology

Koalas, Australia’s emblematic animal along with the kangaroo, is disappearing as fast as its habitat. From 10┬ámillion individuals 200 years ago, there are now only 80,000 koalas left.

Eucalyptus trees and climate change

It’s not that Australians aren’t doing their best to save them; they’re doing everything they can. The thing is, one country cannot fight climate change alone, and climate change is destroying eucalyptus forests.┬áThe eucalyptus is both the koala’s habitat and food. Koalas being slow animals, even hunger doesn’t push them to look elsewhere for other types of food. If nothing is done, they will surely disappear.

A team from Queensland University has a crazy idea to save them: fecal transplants. Koalas are very special in the sense that they exclusively eat eucalyptus, although the tree is toxic for most animals on the planet. This team of scientists hopes that by transplanting fecal material into koalas, they will help them develop intestinal microbiota. In turn, this could help koalas vary their diet.

It’s not as gross as you would think: the intestinal bacteria are encapsulated and ingested. Then, in the stomach, the capsule will disintegrate, liberating the beneficial bacteria.

Koalas at a conservation centre in Cape Otway have been subjected to this treatment, and results have been positive so far. Now, the only question is, will the Australian government pay for a large scale fecal transplantation for koalas?

Infections

Another thing threatening the koala population is infections such as chlamydia, surprisingly. In the New South Wales and Queensland wildlife hospitals, 40% of koalas are suffering from untreatable late-stage chlamydia. Overall, about half the koala population would be infected to various degrees.

The infection can cause blindness, bladder infections, infertility and even death.

This kind of Chlamydia is not transmissible to humans though, so rest assured we’re not about to face a chlamydia pandemic due to cute koalas!

In Australia, almost all koala populations are infected by chlamydia. All except one, the population living on Kangaroo Island. It’s a good thing because that’s one of the two largest koala populations in the world. There might be hope to develop a cure from the genes of those koalas, which are being studied.

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Alain

Alain obtained a bachelor's degree in atmospheric science before taking a certificate in communication. Although this excellent popularizer could have been found on television commenting on weather changes, he feels most comfortable behind a computer screen. He particularly likes to inform people about the climate crisis.