What’s killing Queensland koalas?

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

UQ School of Veterinary Science’s associate professor Rachel Allavena and Dr Joerg Henning—working with the QLD government’s Moggill Koala Hospital—analysed data about koala disease and death from 1997 to 2013.

Their findings were published last month in Scientific Reports.

Dr Allavena said the important 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 team determined that at least a quarter of the koalas hit by cars were breeding animals in good health; also, that about half of the population that died over the study period was affected by more than one disease or health problem, including trauma.

Chlamydia is particularly devastating for koalas, because it can 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 of koala deaths.

Dr Henning said the research team 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,” he said.

The UQ researchers hope their data will help government agencies, koala groups and hospitals better target resources to prevention and treatment.

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