Koala bears in Australia were already threatened by loss of habitat, but now they are facing crisis through disease.
The eucalyptus loving marsupials are being killed as a result of a Chlamydia epidemic which causes a whole range of nasty symptoms, and one scientist is arguing the way forward is to kill them.
According to the BBC, professor of infectious diseases at the Burnet Institute in Melbourne, David Wilson, has revealed alarming figures for the number of koalas affected.
About half the koalas across Australia are infected.
In closed populations, the majority can be infected – sometimes up to 80 per cent.
The strain of the disease is different to the STI humans can encounter, but can be transmitted to humans via the animal’s urine.
In koalas it can cause blindness, infertility, and a painful infection known as ‘dirty tail’.
Dirty tail is actually really awful. The urinary tract gets inflamed and expands substantially; it’s incredibly painful. They get discharge and many koalas die.
The best course of action in Wilson’s mind is to embark on a mass cull of the bears as current antibiotics can cause more problems than they solve.
This belief is echoed by the research of other Chlamydia experts who argue antibiotics interfere with normal bodily functions.
Professor Peter Timms is quoted by the BBC as saying:
Koalas have a gut full of bacteria that is essential to digest eucalyptus leaves. So if you’re giving them systematic antibiotics, it is actually killing this.
Wilson outlined his plan:
We could do a huge, large-scale round up and bring them into hospital but it’s too resource intensive and not really feasible.
They’re transmitting chlamydia to each other and many of them can’t be healed. These koalas are in a lot of pain and if they’re out of the time-range of antibiotics being effective; the humane thing to do is probably to euthanize them.
Wilson’s hope is that in executing a cull now the population will bounce back in the next five to ten years.
A vaccine is currently being developed with early trials suggesting it is effective in preventing koalas catching Chlamydia, but it will reportedly be another three years before a functional vaccine is available on a large scale.
It certainly is a dilemma, with humans perhaps having to be cruel in order to be kind, and prevent as many bears as possible from suffering.