Koalas: Desperate Fight To Save The Iconic Australian Emblem

Koalas: Desperate Fight To Save The Iconic Australian Emblem

Koala 1

The gentle Australian Koala is in trouble and needs help. Habitat loss is the Koalas’ greatest enemy, causing them tremendous stress which often triggers an organism known as Chlamydia, which lives in the body tissue of most healthy koalas.

At the bottom of this article is the author’s own real life koala rescue which took place last week.

Seriously, can this orphaned joey be any cuter?

Seriously, can this orphaned joey be any cuter?

“The chlamydia disease is a somewhat silent killer and has the very real potential to finish koala populations in Queensland,” said Dr. Amber Gillett, a veterinarian at the Australia Zoo Wildlife Hospital in Beerwah, Queensland (the late Steve Irwin’s animal hospital.)

When triggered, chlamydia leads to infertility and blindness and is often fatal. “In situations where you combine habitat pressure, domestic dog attacks and car hits with severe chlamydial disease, the outcome for koalas is devastating,” Dr. Gillett said.

Chlamydia is devastating koala populations and recent surveys in Queensland show it has caused symptoms in up to 50 percent of the state’s wild koalas, with probably even more infected but not showing symptoms.

Seriously injured koala who was hospitalised after being hit by a car.

Seriously injured koala who was hospitalised after being hit by a car.

The bacteria, which is transmitted during birth, through mating and possibly through fighting, comes in two different strains [neither the same as the human form.] The first: Chlamydia pecorum, is causing a vast majority of health problems in Queensland’s koalas; the second: C. pneumoniae, is less common.

Chlamydia causes a host of symptoms in koalas, including eye infections, which can lead to blindness, making it difficult for them to find scarce eucalyptus leaves, their primary food source. The bacteria can also lead to respiratory infections, along with cysts that can make female koalas infertile.

The epidemic has been particularly severe in Queensland, where nearly all koalas are infected with koala retrovirus, said Dr. Gillett. This retrovirus is an H.I.V.-like infection that suppresses the koala’s immune system and interferes with its ability to fight off chlamydia.

There is no treatment available for koala retrovirus, but researchers are working to test a vaccine that would help prevent further spread of chlamydia infection in Queensland’s koalas. As of today there is still no vaccine available.

When the koalas’ habitat is destroyed, they have to cope with the dangers of cars, dogs and lack of food. Loss of habitat pushes koalas further into urban areas where around 4,000 koalas are killed each year by dogs and cars alone.

Koala Facts

Koalas are the only other animal, like humans, that have individual fingerprints with some similarities with human fingerprints. It is noted that each Koala has a different fingerprint from other Koalas, as in humans.

Front paw of a koala.

Front paw of a koala.

Koalas are very fussy eaters and have strong preferences for different types of gum leaves. In Australia there are over 600 types of eucalypts, but Koalas will “not” eat a large proportion of these. Within a particular area, as few as “one” and generally no more than two or three species of eucalyptus tree will be regularly browsed, while a variety of other species are used for just sitting or sleeping in.

Koala asleep in a tree.

Koala asleep in a tree.

Koalas have only 11 pairs of ribs instead of 13, the least of any recorded marsupial species. They have a curved spine and a cartilaginous pad over the end of the spine which may make it more comfortable to sit on branches and in tree forks.

Koalas communicate with each other by making a range of noises. The most startling and unexpected of these in such a seemingly gentle animal is a sound like a loud snore and then a belch, known as a ‘bellowE

Koalas are marsupials which means that their young are born immature and they develop further in the safety of their mother’s pouch. Koalas are very passive and live in trees and eat leaves and sleep for about 20 hours a day.

Koalas are not related to bears and their closest relative is the wombat. Most of their time is spent sleeping because it requires a lot of energy to digest their toxic, fibrous, low-nutrition diet of leaves and sleeping is the best way to conserve energy.

Rolling Stones guitarist Ron Wood nursing a koala, 2014.

Rolling Stones guitarist Ron Wood nursing a koala, 2014.

Koalas don’t normally need to drink as they get all the moisture they need from the gumleaves. However, they can drink if necessary, such as in times of drought or after bushfires when the leaves may not contain sufficient moisture.

Koalas have 5 digits on each front paw, two of which are opposed to the others, much like our thumbs are able to be moved differently from the fingers. This helps them to hold firmly onto the branches and to grip their food. The 2nd and 3rd digits on their hind paws are fused together to form a grooming claw.

Close up photo of a koala's hind paw.

Close up photo of a koala’s hind paw.

A mature male has a dark scent gland in the centre of his white chest which exudes a dark, sticky substance. He rubs this on his trees to indicate to other Koalas that this is his territory.

Trees are the Koalas’ family homes, bedrooms, kitchens and nurseries. If the home range trees are removed, the Koalas lose both food and shelter. Because of the structure of overlapping home ranges, one Koala cannot just ‘move next door’ if its trees are removed, as ‘next door’ already belongs to someone else and cannot support another Koala.

Presidents Obama and Putin meet koalas in Australia.

Presidents Obama and Putin meet koalas in Australia.

To read more from the Australian Koala Foundation about the koalas’ life cycle, including his social structure and the remarkable birth and early life of the koala baby, called a joey, click here.

Koalas use a range of sounds to communicate with one another over relatively large distances. Males save fighting energy by bellowing their dominance and they also bellow to allow other animals to accurately locate the position of the caller.

Mothers and babies make soft clicking, squeaking sounds and gentle humming or murmering sounds to one another, as well as gentle grunts to signal displeasure or annoyance.

All Koalas share one common call which is elicited by fear: it is a cry like a baby screaming and is made by animals under stress, which is often accompanied by shaking.

Plant A Tree

Loss of koala habitat over the years.

Loss of koala habitat over the years.

SaveTheKoala organisation has planted 23,504 trees so far and invite you to plant on on-line tree, by purchasing one of their koala trees and they will plant it for you. Your name will be engraved on a plaque which will be attached to the tree for you to visit at any time.

Do not plant koala trees in places which would encourage Koalas into danger, such as on main roads, fenced in with swimming pools or close to power lines.

Injured mother koala and baby joey, after being hit by a car.

Injured mother koala and baby joey, after being hit by a car.

If you have a dog it may be more humane to deter Koalas from entering your yard altogether by having a Koala-proof fence, with no overhanging trees to allow them access.

Although they can swim, some Koalas drown in swimming pools because they often are unable to climb back out if they fall in. If you have a swimming pool, securely tie a sturdy rope to a tree or post at the side of the pool and place the end in the pool. Alternatively, you could ensure that your pool fence is Koala-proof, as well as child-proof.

Research shows that socially stable Koala populations occur only when there are favourite tree species present. Leaving out the key species from tree plantings to restore Koala habitat, could be a waste of time and effort.

With the latest research, it is becoming clear that the Koalas’ selection of tree species influences the social structure of populations and the maintenance of each individual Koala’s home range within the population.

A koala which was just hit by a car and killed.

A koala which was just hit by a car and killed.

Koalas are protected by law. It is illegal to catch, transport or interfere with protected wildlife without a permit from the relevant wildlife authority unless it is in distress and in need of immediate human assistance. Sick, injured, orphaned and dead Koalas MUST be referred to registered wildlife rescue authorities.

If you are fortunate enough to live in an area where Koalas also live, you have a responsibility to do everything in your power to ensure that they are safe and receive proper medical attention when they are sick or injured.

Koala after being attacked by a dog.

Koala after being attacked by a dog.

For more information about what to do if you find an injured or dead koala: click here. 

Unless you are an experienced rescuer, only observe Koalas from a distance. Wild Koalas become stressed very easily. Never try to pat a wild Koala! It is a wild animal and those sharp claws and teeth can inflict quite a nasty wound.

I am an animal rescuer and a week ago I was called to rescue a koala which was reported to be injured. It took days to locate her and I was shocked to see how frighteningly thin she was. After a difficult rescue which involved wrestling her from a tree truck and getting her into a crate, I was able to take the koala to an ICU Animal Hospital which works with Koalas.

The short video was taken as I was assessing if she needed rescuing. As she moved away, I could see the staining around her rear end, which is a clear sign she needed help. Note in the video how malnourished she is, even though she is surrounded by good quality food.

As I turned around to get my net and crate out of the car, she was already heading to a tree to climb. I HAD to stop her and get her to hospital today! Hobbling along by myself, carrying a large crate and long handled net, I caught up with her as she reached the tree and she jumped up onto the trunk.

Koala rescued by the author, last week. Note how malnourished the koala is.

Koala rescued by the author, last week. Note how malnourished the koala is.

The situation was now desperate. It was a battle between her and myself – she wanted to get away from me and I wanted to capture her. She started scurrying up the tree trunk. I blocked her off with the net, thankful that I had purchased a very large heavy duty one capable of stopping juvenile kangaroos.

As her extremely strong claws hit the metal of the neck of the net, it took all my strength to stop her from climbing higher. For about two minutes we pushed hard against each other; me clinging to the handle of my net forcing it down on her front legs and her pushing with all her mite to get past the annoying obstruction in her path.

Rear end of the koala which was rescued - the red staining is a precursor to chlamydia infection.

Rear end of the koala which was rescued – the red staining is a precursor to chlamydia infection.

Wrestling with the metal neck of the net I managed to bump one of her front legs and slightly dislodged her, which made her angry. Our struggle intensified against each other as she lashed out with a front leg, claws flared. This worked to my advantage because her claws became tangled in the netting and after some clever manoevurs on my part, as she screamed out stress calls, similar to a baby screaming, she dropped to the ground, under the net.

By now she was yelling loudly, which was rather heartbreaking to know she was screaming stress calls for help, when I was trying my best to help her. Over a matter of minutes, despite her best efforts to claw me to pieces, I somehow got her untangled from the net and dropped the large crate over the top of her.

Rescued koala's front paw and claws.

Rescued koala’s front paw and claws.

I now had her contained but the crate was tipped up on its side, with her in it, but I couldn’t stand the crate up to do the door up or she’d leap out. By this point I had so much adrenaline flooding my own body I was shaking all over and felt like collapsing, but I puled myself together and took an almighty breath and flipped the crate and slammed the door shut as the koala was caught off-guard and rolled upside down inside the crate. She was now safe!

Once she was loaded into the car, safely inside the crate, we headed to the ICU Emergency Animal Hospital. She kept throwing herself at the door and walls of the crate, panicking to get out. This was her first introduction to humans and captivity so she was quite terrified. I was also aware that stress would complicate whatever illness she was already dealing with.

Rescued koala in the author's car, heading to the ICU Animal Hospital.

Rescued koala in the author’s car, heading to the ICU Animal Hospital.

Arriving at the ICU after hours, the koala was given 100% top priority. She was taken straight through to the Wildlife Specialist Veterinarian who was on duty who assessed her and placed her in a climate controlled enclosure and assigned a dedicated nurse to watch the koala and monitor her every move for the next 12 hours. She was given pain relief drugs and made as comfortable as possible.

The Specialist then spent 30 minutes speaking with me, thanking me as a rescuer for the part rescuers play in the battle to save koalas. “Without rescuers we cannot treat the koalas” said the doctor.

Koala peeping out of the crate, inside the author's car.

Koala peeping out of the crate, inside the author’s car.

At 8am the next morning the koala was transported by Animal Ambulance to Currumbin Wildlife Hospital, where some of the world’s leading koala experts are working hard to find a vaccination against stress induced chlamydia. The koala was given extensive tests which take close to 24 hours to be certain of the results before decisions are made.

Sadly, the koala I rescued tested positive to chlamydia and she was humanely euthanised by koala experts who did all they possibly could to save her. Post mortem reveal she had chlamydia which rendered her infertile, she had cysts on her ovaries and a serious bladder infection and retrovirus (an H.I.V.-like infection that suppresses the koala’s immune system and interferes with its ability to fight off chlamydia.) She had been in tremendous pain prior to being rescued, which explained her malnutrition.

Please help koalas by supporting organisations working hard to save them.

Please help koalas by supporting organisations working hard to save them.

A koala which tests positive for chlamydia cannot be released back into the wild because they will further contaminate other koalas. Scientists are working around the clock to find a vaccine to save the koala species, but until they are successful the future of the Koala species hangs in the balance. Once they are gone, they are gone forever.

Please support the work of the Australian Koala Foundation, which is the national organisation which funds Koala research, provides educational resources, pushes for the implementation of state and federal laws to protect Koalas and their habitat and co-ordinates the Koala Habitat Atlas, a vital tool in protecting habitat. Please click here if you wish to donate to the Australian Koala Foundation.

Thank you for reading,

Michele Brown.

Source Article from http://speakupforthevoiceless.org/2014/12/05/koalas-desperate-fight-to-save-the-iconic-australian-emblem/

You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

Leave a Reply

Powered by WordPress | Designed by: Premium WordPress Themes | Thanks to Themes Gallery, Bromoney and Wordpress Themes