JAGGER MAKING MOVES
SPECIALLY BRED KOALA HELPING PRESERVE THE FUTURE OF HIS SPECIES.
STORY RAY ANDERSEN
A KOALA NAMED Jagger is on an emotional rescue mission to help endangered colonies of the marsupial in south-east Queensland.
Two-year-old Jagger was released into a koala colony at Elanora Conservation Park, on the southern Gold Coast, after being bred as part of a pilot project involving the University of Queensland, Queensland University of Technology and Dreamworld Wildlife Foundation.
Associate Professor Steve Johnston, from UQ’s School of Agriculture and Food Sciences, said Jagger was bred from a pair of captured wild koalas at a Dreamworld facility and would help safeguard future generations of koalas against inbreeding and disease.
“Jagger is fully vaccinated against chlamydia, is disease-free and, thanks to his diverse genetics, will help protect koalas in this population against the risks of inbreeding,” Dr Johnston said.
“He’s just one member of our recently completed pilot project called the Living Koala Genome Bank, where we propagate koalas with high genetic merit to be released into the wild, improving genetic variation.”
Dr Johnston said south-east Queensland koala numbers were impacted by habitat fragmentation due to development.
“What happens when you start dividing habitat up is you start reducing the amount of land that is available for animals to breed,” he said.
“When you restrict the koalas’ movements you restrict what is known as gene flow and that leads to issues like inbreeding depression which can present itself in all sorts of manifestations in terms of poor health of the animals.”
By testing the genetics of his parents, scientists knew Jagger would add to the genetic diversity of the colony he joined.
Dr Johnston hoped the pilot breeding program would be acknowledged as a legitimate way to help koalas.
“From our point of view, we think that when koalas get to a situation where their populations are so small, they will need some sort of management,” he said.
“You can either leave those animals to die off on their own and let them fend for themselves or you do something about it.
“We want to be able to provide solutions for particular genetic problems or breeding problems that may occur in the future.”
Dreamworld Head of Life Sciences Michele Barnes said the project came at a critical time for koalas.
“Koala population densities have seen a rapid decline – in the order of 80 percent in the past 25 years,” Ms Barnes said.
“With most east coast koalas now listed as endangered, so much more needs to be done in this space to protect them from extinction.”
Dr Johnston said the project had shown zoos could work with universities to play a role in animal conservation. Visit racq.com/ dreamworld for RACQ member discounts.