Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Sqeezed Into Smaller Spaces, Koalas Now Face Deadly Disease

When picturing a koala, one thinks of a cute and
cuddly animal, one that causes no harm to anyone. Sadly, the koala, “one of Australia’s
most treasured creatures”, faces trouble from climate change, environment and
habitat loss as well as a new and concerning factor, bacterial disease. These harmless cute creatures are being forced into smaller and smaller habitats and regions of Australia seriously
endangering their health and presence on earth. Is there anything we can do to prevent this
disease from killing off koalas?

Surprisingly, the disease harming koalas is chlamydia, known to humans as a venereal, yet curable disease, and one that is detrimental to the life of a koala. Chlamydia is known to have already affected the lives of at least 50 percent of the Koalas in Queensland, Australia, yet probably many more. One may ask how a disease curable in humans could be causing such devastation to the koalas. One must understand that the bacteria strains transmitted through mating, birth or fighting are known as Chlamydia pecorum and pneumonia are different than the bacterial strains which effect humans. The symptoms of these strains can cause eye infections or blindness which greatly hinders their ability to find food and protect themselves, the
bacteria can also cause respiratory and cyst issues where in some cases the koalas
may become infertile greatly heightening the chance of endangerment. What sets
this form of chlamydia apart from what humans’ contract is the fact that it is
paired with another disease. A second disease known as the koala retrovirus is said to be carried by almost all of the koala’s in Queensland, greatly hindering their immune not allowing them to
properly fight off chlamydia. Although there is not a cure for the retrovirus, researchers have been formulating a vaccine that has been successful and is safe for the koalas. This vaccine could
be the answer to cure this disease that when paired with the retrovirus turns deadly. Although difficult to distribute as it seems impossible to distribute it to every koala, the researchers believe this vaccine to save the koalas.

Koalas are the beloved creatures of Australia yet it does not seem as if there is a lot of effort being put in to eliminate this disease from all koalas’s to prevent spread. We should work to further the research of the vaccine to finally end this disease. However, should there actually be an increased effort to save the koalas? The concern comes not only for their safety, but because of the fear that this disease could be transmitted to other species. Should we be worried that this disease
could lead to an epidemic?

Tara Reynolds (3)


  1. This is such a sad topic! Yet very interesting from a biology perspective. The fact that Chlamydia is such a common and easily curable disease in humans yet causes a series of problems in koalas is fascinating. The way a disease can have completely different effects in different species is very interesting. Rabies, for example, effects dogs and raccoons in a very different way than humans. The fact that scientists could come up with a vaccine is amazing, though as you said, distributing it to every koala is going to be nearly impossible. There are so many animals that are going extinct in our lifetime, I hope the koala isn't one of them.

    Posted By Erica Bonnell

  2. Its a shame that this is happening to koalas. The fact that it results in reduced fertility makes it worse, especially since koalas are relatively slow breeders. Does anyone now how chlamydia got introduced to koala in the first place?

    Also, it seems that the koala retro virus is amplifying the effects of chlamydia I wonder where the koala retro virus came from?

    Posted By Joseph Frimpong

  3. This is very interesting. Its hard to imagine that a disease common to humans could be unknowingly devastating to koala population, and its even more interesting that methods typically used to treat the bacterial infection in humans are ineffective for the koalas. I think it is quite sad that the presence of the simultaneous retrovirus is complicating treatment, But contrary to what you said, it sounds as though measures are being taken to save as many as possible. There is a vaccine being created and tested, and there is discussion about how it can be distributed. With all of the other life-threatening issues going on around the world, is it really necessary for more than this to be done at tis time? The problem is recognized and efforts are being made. Although sad , I think this is all we can really ask for.

    Posted by Laura Moro

    1. Yes I completley agree that there are many more life-threatening issues that need to be addressed before this increased concern about the koalas. Yet, I worry how easily this disease is transferred to other animals and what danger it could cause overall. I see the need to continue research on this disease and to try to increase the number of koala's who receive the vaccine.

      Posted by Tara Reynolds

  4. What I want to know is why all of a sudden this is effecting koalas? I'm guessing that these two diseases haven't been effecting koalas for centuries, so why now? Has the disease evolved over time? Diseases are scary because they can change and adapt, just like animals. I just wonder what changed to now make this a huge health problem for koalas.

    Posted by Taylor Pirog

  5. I agree. Someone really does need to come up with a vaccine or something that can easily be mass distributed to the koala population of Australia. I hate to see an endangered species dying off so quickly from something that seems like it could be prevented. I wonder if there are any foundations out there that want to save the koalas and would be willing to work to get a vaccine ready and distributed to them?

    Posted by Nicco Ciccolini

  6. This comment has been removed by the author.

  7. One of the larger concerns on our planet that does not get enough attention is the declining diversity of species and genetic material. All of the genetic diversity that exists today, from plankton to humans, developed from a single point billions of years ago. Now you may think it a tragedy when a historical site and death may seem very final to you. So, what about the finality of the end of millions of years of genetic molding. Is it a tragedy? Koalas are a product of the same process that brought about humans. We should care about how and when that process ends for all species.

    Posted by William Mohn

  8. This made my previous perception of koalas all the more false. I had know previously that koalas had chlamydia, but it was unaware to me that it was so devastating to the population. Koalas are so synonymous to Australia just like the kangaroo, I'm surprised more isn't done to protect the species. Chlamydia is spreading amongst this species unchecked, I even previously thought Chlyamydia in Koalas were normal and not too damaging. But this article open my eyes.

    Posted by Andy Zou