About 400 Australian koalas will be vaccinated against chlamydia as part of a trial researchers say they hope could play an important role in the animals’ long-term survival.
Chlamydia, a sexually transmitted disease also found in humans, has become widespread among Australian koalas, affecting half the animals in some areas.
“It is a brutal disease that causes debilitating conjunctivitis, bladder infections and, at times, infertility,” Australia Zoo Wildlife Hospital wildlife veterinarian and research coordinator Amber Gillette said in a statement on Friday.
The bacterial disease, which can be transmitted from mothers to their newborns, can also cause blindness, researchers say.
Each cuckoo will receive a dose of the vaccine and will be microchipped before being released into the wild.
“While each animal will directly benefit from this vaccination, the trial will also focus on the protection provided by vaccination,” said Peter Timms, a professor of microbiology at the University of the Sunshine Coast who is leading the trial.
Although chlamydia can be treated with antibiotics in many cases, the researchers said they hope the vaccine will help improve the animals’ survival and reproduction.
Estimates of koala populations vary because they are difficult to count in the wild. A 2016 study, run by the University of Queensland, calculated that there are about 330,000 koalas left in Australia.
A study by the World Wildlife Fund estimated that more than 60,000 koalas were killed, injured or affected in some way by Australia’s devastating bushfires in 2019 and early 2020.
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