Australian koalas to receive chlamydia as part of trial

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Australian koalas to receive chlamydia as part of trial

A koala suffering from chlamydia, rescued from an area where urban development is encroaching on koala habitat, undergoes health assessments while under anaesthesia at Vineyard Veterinary Hospital in Vineyard, Sydney, Australia, October 1, 2020. ReUTERS Geoffrey Loren Elliot File Photo: Loren Elliot

MELBOURNE - Oct. 16 Reuters - About 400 Australian koalas will be vaccinated against chlamydia as part of a trial that researchers say they hope could play a significant role in the longer-term survival of the animals

Chlamydia, a sexually transmitted disease which is also found in humans, has spread among Australian koalas, affecting half the animals in some areas.

It is a cruel disease that causes debilitating conjunctivitis, bladder infections and sometimes infertility. Amber Gillett, Australia Zoo Wildlife Hospital Wildlife veterinarian and coordinator of research, said in a statement on Friday as the trial began.

The bacterial disease, which can be spread from mothers to their newborns, can also cause blindness, researchers say.

The koalas will receive one dose of the vaccine and will be microchipped before they are released in the wild.

While vaccination will directly benefit each of the animals, the trial will also have a focus on the protection provided by vaccination, said Peter Timms, professor of microbiology at the University of Queensland, who is leading the trial.

Although chlamydia can be treated with antibiotics, the researchers said they hope the vaccine will help improve the survival and reproduction of the animals.

Estimates of koala populations vary as they are difficult to count in the wild. A 2016 study conducted by the University of Queensland calculated there were around 330,000 koalas left in Australia and who found them was weaker than the cattle.

A study commissioned by the World Wildlife Fund estimated that more than 60,000 koalas had been affected in some way by Australia's devastating bushfires in 2019 and early 2020.