Researchers find that it is a tough life out there for koalas

By February 22, 2017 News

Redland City Bulletin

21 Feb 2017, 3:50 p.m.

Scientists pinpoint the causes of high numbers of koala deaths.

SPECIES DECLINE: More and faster roads mean more deaths of koalas by cars.

CARS and chlamydia were the top causes of a dramatic rise in south-east Queensland koala deaths over the past two decades, according to a University of Queensland study.

UQ School of Veterinary Science’s Rachel Allavena and Joerg Henning worked with the Queensland Government’s Moggill Koala Hospital to analyse data from 1997 to 2013.

Dr Allavena said the data had been collected over the span of the koala population crash.

“Populations throughout the Koala Coast declined by about 80 per cent over this period, so this iconic and famous species is in real trouble in our area,” she said.

The researchers and PhD student Viviana Gonzalez-Astudillo determined that at least a quarter of the koalas hit by cars were otherwise in good health, meaning it was healthy, breeding animals that were killed.

It comes as Redland City Council puts in a major push for bigger and better roads to handle population growth.

About half of the population that died was affected by more than one disease or health problem, including trauma.

Chlamydia was particularly devastating for koalas, because of the potential to render females infertile and cause bladder and eye problems, making predator avoidance and food foraging harder.

Animal attacks, particularly from dogs, and wasting away from starvation, disease and poor teeth were other prominent causes.

Dr Henning said the research team had developed KoalaBASE, a web-based database about koalas coming into care in south east Queensland facilities.

“KoalaBASE enables data input at multiple veterinary centres, and use of the data by multiple stakeholders such as veterinarians, government departments and researchers,” Dr Henning said.

The UQ researchers hope their data, published in the journal Scientific Reports, will help government agencies, koala groups and hospitals better target resources to prevention and treatment.

Environment Minister Steven Miles said his department, which funded the $420,723 project, provided extensive records of koala admissions at Moggill.

“This is one of several projects funded by the State Government to boost our knowledge and understanding of the threats facing koalas, so we can ensure work to secure viable and healthy koala populations across the state is based on evidence and scientific research,’’ he said.

Further details on the work are yet to be released.